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FDR, Churchill and Stalin: Inside Their Uneasy WWII Alliance

FDR, Churchill and Stalin: Inside Their Uneasy WWII Alliance

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In desperate times, the enemy of your enemy becomes your friend. During World War II, the United States, Great Britain and the Soviet Union would never have been three-way allies had they not shared a mortal enemy in Adolf Hitler. The Americans were isolationists, the Brits were imperialists and the Soviets were Communists—the unlikeliest of political bedfellows.

But once Germany made its plans for world domination painfully clear, the leaders of the “Big Three” nations—Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin—understood that the only way to defeat Nazism was to put their significant political and personal differences aside in the name of global security. The only question was, how much was each leader willing to sacrifice to make the uneasy alliance work?

Roosevelt, the progressive pragmatist

As WWII broke out in 1939, FDR was on the verge of being elected to a historic third term as a popular and progressive president. The U.S. Congress and the American people were hoping to sit WWII out. America felt it had already sacrificed more than enough young lives in WWI and didn’t want to be pulled into another blood-soaked European conflict.

After Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, in direct defiance of British and French demands, FDR refused to enter the fray, instead declaring the U.S. neutral. Even when the Nazis steamrolled into Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg the following spring, prompting Churchill to call for strong American support, FDR and Congress refused to do anything more than provide financial assistance and some military equipment for the Allied cause.

The relationship between FDR and Churchill echoed the strained alliance between the two greatest Western democracies. Socially, the two men were a perfect match—both gregarious and aristocratic, with a flair for conversation. But Churchill, a decorated soldier and officer, was a passionate defender of the British Empire, which still controlled vast territories from Africa to India to the Far East. FDR, on the other hand, was a harsh critic of what he saw as the evils of imperialism.

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There was no such easy social rapport between FDR and Stalin, a Communist dictator who actively purged all political opposition, even if it meant killing or imprisoning people in the highest ranks of the Soviet government and military. Yet Roosevelt recognized early the political benefits of a positive relationship between the U.S, and the USSR, particularly as a buffer against the Japanese. In fact, in his first year as president, FDR took action to recognize the existence of the Soviet Union and normalize diplomatic relationships with the Kremlin.

Through 1940 and most of 1941, the U.S. remained neutral even as German bombers pummeled British cities in nightly “blitz” attacks against both military and civilian targets. During that same period, Hitler reneged on his non-aggression pact with Stalin and invaded the USSR on June 22, 1941, rekindling war between the Nazi and Communist nations. FDR’s primary response in both cases was to extend lend-lease agreements to Churchill and Stalin for U.S.-built weapons and supplies.

Then, on December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, forcing the U.S. to declare war on Japan. Germany and Italy, the two other Axis powers, declared war on America on December 11. had entered WWII, like it or not.

The Grand Alliance: a three-way shotgun marriage

On January 1, 1942, less than a month after Pearl Harbor, the U.S,, Great Britain and the USSR signed the “Declaration by United Nations,” a legally non-binding document that nevertheless yoked the Big Three in a grand alliance for their mutual survival. None of the three great powers could defeat Hitler on their own, but together they plotted to divide and weaken the seemingly unstoppable German forces.

Churchill deeply distrusted Stalin, and Stalin, famously paranoid, didn’t trust anyone. From the start, FDR found himself in the middle, assuaging Churchill’s fears of a Communist takeover of Europe while feeding Stalin’s aspirations for the Soviet Union’s entry into the upper echelons of political and economic power.

In a private message to Churchill at the beginning of the tense three-way marriage, FDR recognized the British prime minister’s apprehensions, while making a case for bringing the Soviet Union into the circle of “civilized nations.”

“We are all in agreement...as to the necessity of having the USSR as a fully accepted and equal member of an association of the great powers formed for the purpose of preventing international war,” FDR wrote to Churchill in 1944, “It should be possible to accomplish this by adjusting our differences through compromise by all the parties concerned and this ought to tide things over for a few years until the child learns to toddle.”

How FDR won over ‘Uncle Joe’ at the Tehran Conference

FDR, Churchill and Stalin met together for the first time in November of 1943 during the historic Tehran Conference. From the moment the Americans entered the war, Stalin had been pushing for a joint British-American invasion of Western Europe to draw German soldiers from the Eastern front, where the Soviets were sustaining massive losses. In Tehran, the Americans and Brits committed to a massive 1944 invasion of coastal France (“Operation Overlord”) in return for Stalin’s promise to join the fight against Japan.

In Tehran, Roosevelt also met privately with Stalin to discuss the Soviet Union’s central role in a post-war United Nations. Roosevelt shared his vision with Stalin of a peaceful world governed by the “four policemen” of the United States—Britain, China and the Soviet Union—and showed “Uncle Joe” that America was willing to negotiate directly with the USSR to serve their mutual interests.

“What Stalin wanted to do was to revive Russia as a great world power,” says Susan Butler, author of Roosevelt and Stalin: Portrait of a Partnership. “Stalin was perfectly happy to do what FDR wanted. Roosevelt was extending his hand—if you behave, you can be my equal.”

“In my personal view, I think that Roosevelt was the only person that Stalin did trust,” adds Butler. “I think that they had an understanding of the world. It has nothing to do with the fact that Stalin was a paranoid nut. If Stalin trusted anyone, he trusted Roosevelt, because Stalin fared very well at the hands of FDR.”

At Yalta, an alliance on the brink

The second and final time the three great leaders met was at the Yalta Conference in February of 1945. This meeting was very different from Tehran, with FDR visibly ill and an Allied victory over Germany in plain sight.

“At that point, FDR, Churchill and Stalin were more concerned about stopping World War Three,” says Butler. “They thought there was a great possibility that Germany was going to try once more to rule the world. [The post-war formation of] the United Nations was the primary concern of FDR, which is why he called for the conference at Yalta.”

READ MORE: As the Allies Closed in, They Jockeyed for World Power

At Yalta, the three men assumed that the War with Japan would rage on long after Hitler surrendered. In order to secure continued Soviet military support against the Japanese, and win Stalin’s full cooperation in the United Nations, FDR and Churchill agreed to a number of concessions with historic consequences. After the war, the Soviets would retain control over part of Germany and the USSR would also have free reign to influence the governments of its Eastern European and Asian neighbors.

There were bright hopes that the cooperative spirit of the Grand Alliance would persist after WWII, but with FDR’s death only two months after Yalta, the political dynamics changed dramatically. The U.S., now under the command of hardliner Harry Truman, reneged on FDR’s promise to loan money to the Soviets for rebuilding their damaged economy. Coupled with America and Britain’s fears over the spread of communism in Eastern Europe and Asia, the stage was set for the Cold War.


During the Second World War Winston Churchill became painfully aware that Britain had spent its capital in the war and was becoming economically dependent upon American support. Though Churchill wanted Britain to continue as a world power after the war, he was aware that in a post-war world the Soviet Union would be a much stronger power than it had been before the war, while Britain would be a much weaker power than it had been before the war. [5] At the same time, a major fear for Churchill was that the United States might return to isolationism after the war, thereby leaving an economically-weakened Britain to face the Soviet Union more or less alone. Given these concerns about the future, during the war Churchill consistently sought an agreement with Stalin that might stabilise the post-war world and tie the Soviets down in a way that was favorable to British interests. [5] In this regard, Churchill was especially concerned about securing the Mediterranean within the British sphere of influence, making it clear that he did not want Communists to come to power in Italy, Greece and Yugoslavia as he believed that Communist governments in those countries would allow the Soviet Union to establish air and naval bases in those nations, which would threaten British shipping in the Mediterranean. [6] The Suez canal and the Mediterranean Sea were a key shipping route between Britain and its colonies in Asia, especially India, together with the Dominions of Australia and New Zealand. It was also the main route that tankers used to carry oil from the Middle East to Britain. [6] Because of the Suez canal, Churchill and other British officials intended to keep Egypt in the British sphere of influence by continuing a military occupation of Egypt that had begun in 1882, which was envisioned in Britain as being permanent. [7] For Churchill, British control of the Suez canal required British control of the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, as losing control of either sea would cancel out the advantage of control of Suez. Thus, for Churchill it was critical to ensure that the nations on the Mediterranean sea lanes like Italy and Greece were in the British sphere of influence after the war. [6] Inconveniently for Churchill, during the war, Italy, Greece and Yugoslavia all had very large and growing Communist parties.

Though Churchill appreciated the fact that the Soviet Union for much of the war was doing the majority of the fighting against Germany, he also advocated an Anglo-American "Mediterranean strategy" to strike at the supposed "soft underbelly" of the Axis in the Mediterranean and advance into Eastern Europe as much to block the Red Army from advancing westward as to win the war. [8] Churchill's "Mediterranean strategy", which he supported for political reasons even more so than military reasons, caused much tension with the Americans, who preferred to fight and defeat the Wehrmacht in north-west Europe. [9] British policy after June 1941 was to support the Soviet Union as a Soviet defeat would free the majority of the Wehrmacht to fight in the west but at the same time, Churchill had hopes that the war would end with the Red Army being more or less still within the 1941 borders of the Soviet Union with the Allies liberating the rest of Europe. [10] Churchill together with other British leaders believed that Britain could not afford heavy losses in fighting against the Germans, and the fact that the Red Army was doing the bulk of the fighting, inflicting heavy losses on the Germans while taking even more heavy losses itself was a source of quiet satisfaction for him. [10] Churchill's "Mediterranean strategy" calling for the Allies to take control of North Africa, then to invade Italy, which in turn would be used as a base for invading the Balkans, was described by the historian David Carlton as a strategy largely based upon Churchill's anti-communist ideology as he wished to place the Allied armies as far into Eastern Europe as possible to block the Red Army from moving west. [11] Carlton also noted the contradiction in Churchill's grand strategy that called for the Soviet Union to do the bulk of the fighting and take the heaviest losses while at the same time he assumed that Britain would be able to step in when the time was right to stop the Red Army from moving west. Carlton noted that the fact that the Red Army did the majority of the fighting also allowed the Red Army to seize most of Eastern Europe in 1944–45. [12]

As a corollary to his "Mediterranean strategy", Churchill supported plans for a post-war federation of Austria and Hungary as a way to limit Soviet influence in Eastern Europe, favoring a magnanimous peace with the Hungarians. [13] Churchill was notably reluctant to declare war on Hungary, and only did so under heavy Soviet pressure. [14] In 1942, treaties had been signed by the governments-in-exile for a post-war federation uniting Yugoslavia and Greece, and another federation uniting Poland and Czechoslovakia Churchill had hopes that the proposed Austro-Hungarian federation would serve as the link for an Eastern European super-state stretching from the Baltic to the Mediterranean that would place much of Eastern Europe in the Western sphere of influence. [13] The Hungarian prime minister Miklós Kállay was convinced by 1943 that the Axis powers were destined to lose the war, and his main interest was in ensuring that Hungary signed an armistice with Britain and the United States before the Red Army arrived in Hungary. Throughout 1943, Hungarian diplomats in Turkey were secretly in contact with British and American diplomats, telling them that their government no longer wished to be fighting with Germany. [15] On 9 September 1943, aboard a yacht in the Sea of Marmara just outside of Istanbul, the British ambassador to Turkey, Sir Hughe Knatchbull-Hugessen secretly signed an armistice with the Hungarian diplomat László Veress under which Hungarian forces would surrender to British and American forces the moment they arrived in Hungary significantly, the secret armistice was vague about whether it also applied to Soviet forces. [16] Though Kállay rejected the armistice when he learned that it included the Allied demand for unconditional surrender, on 10 September the Hungarian consul in Istanbul, Dezső Újvary, told Sir Ronald Hugh Campbell, the British ambassador in Lisbon that his government would abide by the terms of the secret armistice. [17] The willingness of Hungary's ultra-conservative government that was dominated by the aristocracy and gentry to reach out to Britain, with the Anglophile Veress speaking much about his hopes for closer Anglo-Hungarian ties after the war, led to hopes that Hungary would be in the British sphere of influence in the post-war world.

Bulgaria was allied to Germany and had received Romanian, Greek and Yugoslav territory in 1940–41. [18] In December 1941, King Boris III of Bulgaria declared war on the United States and Great Britain, but never declared on the Soviet Union as the traditional Russophile feelings of the Bulgarian people for their Slavs would have been too unpopular. [18] In the European Advisory Commission that had the responsibility of drafting armistices with the Axis powers, the Soviet Union as it was not at war with Bulgaria was not involved while the United States had no interest in armistices with what were regarded as backward Balkan nations like Bulgaria. [18] The British thus found Bulgaria was their responsibility by default, and the possibility that the Soviet Union might declare war on Bulgaria never occurred to them, leading them to assume that Bulgaria would be in the British sphere of influence after the war by default. [18]

Churchill's support for retaining the monarchies in both Italy and Greece as the best way to keep the Communists out of power after the war also caused tensions with the Americans, who objected to the behavior of King Victor Emmanuel III in Italy and King George II in Greece who had both supported fascist regimes, and had discredited the Houses of Savoy and Glücksburg. [19] In opposition to Churchill who favored not only retaining the monarchies in Italy and Greece, but also keeping in power men who supported fascism such as Marshal Pietro Badoglio, Roosevelt was much more open to having Italy and Greece become republics after the war while preferring men of liberal and moderate left-wing positions as the future post-war leaders. [19] However, the fact that there were no Soviet forces fighting in Italy lessened Churchill's fears of the Italian Communist Party coming to power after the war. [20] Knowing that the Red Army forces in the Ukraine were very close to Romania, which suggested the Soviets would probably enter that nation first, in May 1944, the British Foreign Secretary Sir Anthony Eden met with Fedor Tarasovich Gusev, the Soviet ambassador to the court of St. James, to discuss an arrangement under which Greece would be in the British sphere of influence in exchange for Romania being in the Soviet sphere of influence. [21]

Though Yugoslavia was not considered as important as Italy and Greece, Churchill had pressed in June 1944 for a coalition government that would see the Democratic Federal Yugoslavia provisional government proclaimed by Marshal Josip Broz Tito in 1943 unite with the Yugoslav government-in-exile based in London headed by King Peter II. [22] Churchill had hopes that he with the help of Stalin could persuade Tito to accept King Peter II, believing that retaining the House of Karađorđević would ensure Yugoslavia would remain at least partially in the British sphere of influence after the war. [22] However, unlike Greece and Italy, which British ships using the Suez Canal route had to sail past, this was not the case with Yugoslavia, which therefore led Churchill to place less importance upon that nation. Towards Greece, British policy as stated in an internal document was "our long term policy towards Greece is to retain her in the British sphere of influence, and. a Russian-dominated Greece would not be in accordance with British strategy in the Eastern Mediterranean". [23] Knowing that the main resistance force in Greece was the Communist-dominated EAM (Ethnikó Apeleftherotikó Métopo-National Liberation Front), British policy was to support EAM as a way to tie down German forces that might otherwise fight against the British, but at the same time to prevent EAM from coming to power and ensure that the Greek government-in-exile based in Cairo returned to Greece. [24] Given the importance which Churchill attached to Greece, he very much wanted an agreement with Stalin under which Moscow would accept Greece as being within the British sphere of influence. [25]

On 4 May 1944, Churchill asked his Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden, the rhetorical question: "Are we going to acquiesce in the communisation of the Balkans and perhaps of Italy?" [26] Churchill answered his own question by saying that Britain must "resist the communist infusion and invasion". [26] The attempt to work spheres of influence for the Balkans led Gusev to ask if the Americans were included. [26] Eden assured Gusev that the Americans would back the spheres of influence agreement, but when asked, the State Department firmly replied it was not the policy of the United States to make such agreements as that would violate the Atlantic Charter. [26] Placed into a difficult position, Churchill appealed directly to Roosevelt. The British historian David Carlton recounts that

[Churchill told Franklin Roosevelt] on 31 May…that the proposed Anglo-Soviet arrangement applied only to war conditions and was not an attempt to carve up the Balkans. Roosevelt was unimpressed and on 11 June held that the result would be "the division of the Balkan region into spheres of influence despite the declared intention to limit the arrangement to military matters." Churchill then urged the President to consent to the arrangement being given a three-month trial. And on the 13th Roosevelt rather weakly gave way…This turned out to be a decision of great importance. [27]

On 22 June 1944, the Red Army launched Operation Bagration and in the ensuing battle over the next 12 days destroyed German Army Group Center, taking out 21 divisions totaling about 300,000 men. [28] The destruction of Army Group Center created a huge gaping hole in the German lines on the Eastern Front, and led to rapid Soviet advances. [29] On 20 August 1944, the Red Army launched a major offensive into the Balkans and invaded Romania, whose oil was key to the German war effort. [30] On 21 August 1944, Churchill's doctor, Lord Moran, wrote in his diary: "Winston never talks of Hitler these days. He is always harping on the dangers of Communism. He dreams of the Red Army spreading like a cancer from one country to another. It has become an obsession, and he seems to think of little else," going on to note that Churchill's response to the Soviet offensive into Romania was to exclaim: "Good God, the Russians are spreading across Europe like a tide." [31] Though the German 8th and 6th Armies in Romania resisted fiercely, the Romanian Army, whose morale had been declining for some time, collapsed in the face of the Soviet combined arms offensive. [30] The Red Army encircled the German 6th Army, of whom the men serving in its 18 divisions either surrendered or were killed, while the badly mauled 8th Army retreated into Hungary to hold the passes in the Carpathian mountains with the aim of blocking the Soviets from advancing into Hungary. [30]

On 23 August 1944, King Michael of Romania dismissed his pro-German Prime Minister, Marshal Ion Antonescu, signed an armistice with the Soviets, and declared war on Hungary and Germany. [32] King Michael hoped that having Romania switch sides might save the Romanian branch of the House of Hohenzollern from being replaced after the war with a Communist regime. The Wehrmacht, which had lost 380,000 men in the unsuccessful attempt to hold Romania over the course of two weeks in August 1944, now found its entire position in the Balkans imperilled. [33]

Churchill had a fascination with the Balkans, which he saw as one of the most favorable places for operations. [34] A recurring theme of his "Mediterranean Strategy" was his plan for the Allies to land on the Adriatic coast of Yugoslavia and advance through the Ljubljana Gap in the Alps to reach Austria in order to stake a post-war claim on Eastern Europe. [34] The collapsing German position in the Balkans spurred Churchill's interest once again in his plans for the Ljubljana Gap, but landing in Dalmatia would require capturing north-east Italy first. [34] On 25 August, the British 8th Army began Operation Olive, an offensive against the Gothic Line in northern Italy spearheaded by the 1st Canadian Corps with the aim of taking Pesaro and Rimini, which were to be used as ports to support the planned British offensive in Yugoslavia. [35] The stiff German resistance on the Gothic Line, which made the best use of the natural defensive terrain of north-eastern Italy that was crisscrossed by mountains and 14 rivers, led to the 8th Army advancing far more slowly than what had been hoped and led for the plans for the Ljubjana Gate being shelved. [35] In Triumph and Tragedy, the last of his History of the Second World War books, Churchill attacked the Americans for Operation Dragoon, the invasion of southern France, to which he was opposed. [36] As an expression of bitterness that the Americans opposed his Mediterranean strategy, Churchill claimed that if only the manpower and resources devoted to Operation Dragoon had been made available for plans to advance up the Ljubanja Gap, then the Allies would had taken Vienna in 1944 and thereby prevented the Red Army from capturing that city in 1945. [36]

On 2 September 1944, Bulgaria renounced the alliance with the Reich and declared its neutrality. [37] On 5 September 1944, the Soviet Union declared war on Bulgaria and the Red Army crossed the Danube into Bulgaria the same day. [33] The Bulgarians promptly surrendered and on the same day as the Soviet Union invaded, Bulgaria switched sides and declared war on Germany. [33] On 9 September, a Communist-led Fatherland Front took power in Bulgaria and on 15 September the Red Army entered Sofia. [38] The Soviet occupation of Bulgaria placed the Red Army on the borders of Yugoslavia, Greece, and Turkey, all of which bordered the Mediterranean sea lanes that Churchill was determined to deny to the Soviets after the war. [39] At the Second Quebec Conference held between Roosevelt and Churchill in Quebec City between 12–16 September, Churchill and the rest of the British delegation spent much time talking about Bulgaria. [39] During the same conference, Roosevelt once again rejected Churchill's plans for the Ljubljana Gap offensive, saying that the Balkans were not the decisive theater of war that Churchill kept saying that it was, and the Allies should focus on north-west Europe. [40] At the conference, Field Marshal Alan Brooke, the chief of the Imperial General Staff, had to inform Churchill that the British Army had been stretched to the breaking point by the losses caused by the fighting in north-west Europe, Italy, and Burma, and only a skeleton force would be available for operations in the Balkans. [40] Brooke advised Churchill that his plans for the British Army to occupy the Balkans together with Hungary were quite impossible to achieve at present without American participation. [40]

The British were especially concerned about the possibility that Stalin might allow the greater "Greater Bulgaria" created in 1941 when the Germans assigned Yugoslav Macedonia together with much of Greek Thrace and Greek Macedonia to Bulgaria to continue after the war. [39] The "greater Bulgaria" created in 1941 had given Bulgaria a coastline on the Aegean Sea, and most disturbing to the British, the Soviets were allowing the Bulgarians to stay in the parts of Greece and Yugoslavia that they had annexed under the grounds that Bulgaria was now a Soviet ally. [39] Even more frightening to Churchill was the possibility the Red Army might turn south into Greece and liberate it, thereby presenting Britain with a fait accompli with EAM installed in power. [39] In a state of some desperation, Eden sent a cable on 21 September to Sir Archibald Clark Kerr, the ambassador in Moscow, asking him to say that he hoped "the Soviet Government would not find it necessary to send Russian troops into any part of Greece except in agreement with His Majesty's Government". [39] After two anxious days of waiting for a Soviet reply, on 23 September, the Deputy Foreign Commissar, Andrey Vyshinsky, told Clark Kerr that the Soviet Union would honor the Eden–Gusev agreement of May 1944. [39] Besides for Greece, Churchill pushed very strongly for Bulgaria to return to pre-1941 frontiers. [41] Churchill was notably indifferent to reversing the 1940 Treaty of Craiova, which had given the Bulgarians the Southern Dobruja at the expense of Romania.

As the Soviets advanced into Bulgaria, the Red Army was also engaged in savage fighting on the Transylvanian passes in the Carpathian mountains leading into Hungary, but few doubted that it would be only a matter of time before the Soviets entered the Hungarian plain. [42] On 21 September 1944, the Red Army took Arad, a Transylvanian city that was shortly occupied by the Hungarians, and panic broke out in Budapest. [43] On 24 September 1944, the Regent of Hungary, Admiral Miklós Horthy, decided to open secret talks for an armistice with the Soviet Union, which he had resisted doing until then, sending Stalin a letter claiming that he was misinformed about the incident which led Hungary to become belligerent with the Soviet Union in 1941, and now accepted that the Soviets did not bomb the Hungarian town of Kassa. [42] Like King Michael, Admiral Horthy hoped that signing an armistice now might save Hungary from a Communist regime, and furthermore he wanted to keep the part of Transylvania that Hungary had received under the Second Vienna Award of 1940. [44] On 6 October 1944, the Battle of Debrecen began as the Red Army broke out onto the Hungarian plain. [43] The Red Army captured and then lost Debrecen, through the three Soviet corps that had been encircled by the German counterattack were able to escape. [43] The Soviet drive to Budapest had been halted for the moment, but it was assumed that the Red Army would resume its advance.

At the same time that the Red Army was advancing into the Balkans and was battling its way into Hungary, the Western Allies found themselves stalemated on the Western Front as the hopes of Anglo-American generals to have the war over by Christmas were dashed by the vigorous resistance of the Wehrmacht. [31] The widespread belief held by Anglo-American officers that the Normandy campaign had crippled the Wehrmacht in western Europe turned out to be mistaken as in what German historians call the "miracle of September," the Wehrmacht recovered from its defeat in Normandy and stopped the Allied advance. [45] To sustain their advance, the Allies needed a major port closer to their lines than Cherbourg and Marseilles. [46] The deeper the Allies advanced into Europe, the longer their supply lines became while the German supply lines conversely became shorter, giving the Wehrmacht the advantage in the fighting. [45] Though the Wehrmacht had after 1940 neglected the Westwall along the border with France, the logistical problems greatly hindered the Allied advance, and the hastily reactivated Westwall turned out to be a formidable defense line that delayed the Allies from entering the Rhineland. [45] Even the U.S. 3rd Army, led by the famously aggressive General George Patton, had its advance in Lorraine slowed to what the American historian Gerhard Weinberg called a "crawl" by October. [45]

The British had captured Antwerp, Europe's third-largest port, on 5 September 1944, but Antwerp was useless to the Allies as long the Germans occupied the mouth of the river Scheldt, which connected Antwerp to the North Sea. [46] The decision of Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery to focus on Operation Market Garden, an attempt to outflank the Westwall, which ended in the defeat of the Anglo-Polish paratroopers at the Battle of Arnhem, rather than on clearing the Scheldt, allowed German forces to dig in and deny the Allies use of Antwerp. [47] The Germans had mined the Scheldt, which required minesweepers to remove the mines, which in turn required the eviction of the German forces occupying the banks of the river. As a result, a largely Canadian force had to fight the difficult and bloody Battle of the Scheldt in October–November 1944 to make it possible for minesweepers to clear the Scheldt. [46] As long as Antwerp remained closed to the Allies, there was no possibility of the Allies making any major advances into the Reich in the fall of 1944. [47] Only on 28 November 1944, after the minesweepers had cleared the Scheldt, could the Allies begin to use Antwerp. This in turn placed Stalin in a relatively favorable position in regards to negotiating power with the Allies. [48]

With the Red Army now deep in the Balkans, Adolf Hitler decided that Greece was untenable and he ordered his forces to pull out of Greece to head into Yugoslavia before they were cut off by the Red Army. [49] On 4 October 1944, the 3rd Ukrainian Front under Marshal Fyodor Tolbukhin together with the Yugoslav Partisans took Belgrade. [34] The fact that the Soviets did not follow up taking Belgrade with an offensive onto the Adriatic Sea, instead heading up the Danube river valley towards Budapest, allowed the German Army Group E under Alexander Löhr to escape from Greece. [37] On 4 October 1944, the British III Corps under General Ronald Scobie landed in Greece. [40] On 10 October 1944, the Germans began to pull out of Greece. [50] On 15 October 1944, Horthy signed an armistice with the Soviet Union, but Hitler had anticipated this move and made preparations to keep Hungary a battlefield regardless of what the Hungarians thought. [42] The fact that Horthy insisted that his honor as a Hungarian officer and gentleman required him to tell Hitler that he was going to sign an armistice with the Soviets certainly ended any doubt in Hitler's mind about what he was going to do. The same day that Horthy signed the armistice, German forces took control of Hungary, deposed Horthy and imposed a new government led by Ferenc Szálasi of the Hungarist Arrow Cross Party. [42] As the Germans had pulled out of Greece, EAM had taken over and the British found as they landed that EAM had control of most of Greece. [25]

Countries Soviet Percentages UK Percentages
Bulgaria 75% → 80% 25% → 20%
Greece 10% 90%
Hungary 50% → 80% 50% → 20%
Romania 90% → 100% 10% → 0%
Yugoslavia 50% 50%

The Anglo-Soviet summit in Moscow that began on 9 October 1944 was largely provoked by the Bulgarian issue, especially the possibility of a "greater Bulgaria" after the war in the Soviet sphere of influence together with the possibility that all of the Balkans together with Hungary might be occupied by the Red Army soon. [40] Roosevelt, after studiously ignoring the Balkans for most of the war, had now started to take an interest in the region. [51] In October 1944, Roosevelt was fully engaged in his reelection campaign as he sought a fourth term, making it impossible for him to attend the Moscow summit as he would like. [51] In a telegraph to Stalin on 4 October, Roosevelt expressed his regret that his reelection campaign kept him from attending, but that "in this global war there is literally no question, political or military, in which the United States is not interested". [51] Roosevelt asked that the American ambassador to the Soviet Union, W. Averell Harriman, be allowed to attend the summit as his observer, which was politely refused under the grounds that Harriman could only attend as Roosevelt's representative. [51]

Winston Churchill proposed the agreement, under which the UK and USSR agreed to divide Europe into spheres of influence, with one country having "predominance" in one sphere, and the other country having "predominance" in another sphere. [4] At least part of the reason for the agreement was Churchill still nourished hopes that the British would be able to land in Yugoslavia and advance through the Ljubljana Gap, which would require co-operation with the Red Army who already entered Yugoslavia. [34] Furthermore, Churchill's interest in keeping EAM out of power made him keen to persuade Stalin, whose support for EAM had been mostly rhetorical so far, to abandon EAM as he did not wish for disagreements about Greece to become the occasion for an Anglo-Soviet clash of interests in the Balkans. [25] In the British transcript of the conversations, Churchill's main fear was that the already imminent prospect of civil war in Greece might be the cause of an Anglo-Soviet war with the Soviets backing EAM and the British backing the king. [52] After discussing Poland, Churchill told Stalin Romania was "very much a Russian affair" and the Soviet-Romanian armistice was "reasonable and showed much statecraft in the interests of general peace in the future." [53] Churchill then stated that "Britain must be the leading Mediterranean power", which required having Greece in the British sphere of influence. [53] Stalin expressed some sympathy for the British who for much of World War II have been unable to use the Mediterranean because of the danger of naval and air attacks from Axis forces based in Italy, forcing the British to supply their forces in Egypt via the long route around the Cape of Good Hope. [53] An agreement was soon reached with Greece and Romania, but Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and Hungary turned to be more difficult. [54]

According to Churchill's account of the incident, Churchill suggested that the Soviet Union should have 90 percent influence in Romania and 75 percent in Bulgaria the United Kingdom should have 90 percent in Greece and they should have 50 percent each in Hungary and Yugoslavia. Churchill wrote it on a piece of paper which he pushed across to Stalin, who ticked it off and passed it back. [3] [55] [56] [57] [58] The result of these discussions was that the percentages of Soviet influence in Bulgaria and, more significantly, Hungary were amended to 80 percent and Romania to 100 percent.

Churchill called it a "naughty document". [56] After discussing the Balkans, Churchill and Stalin turned towards the proposed United Nations, with Churchill ceding to Stalin's demand that the great powers should have the right to vote on and veto territorial disputes involving themselves, giving the example of how China, supported by the United States, was demanding the return of Hong Kong after the war, which Churchill regarded as an outrageous request. [59] As the United States had refused to recognize the Soviet territorial gains of 1939–40, Churchill's message was clear here, namely that there was a pro quo quid that the United Kingdom would support the Soviet Union regaining the frontiers of 1941 in exchange for the Soviet support for Britain to retake its Asian colonies that had been lost to Japan, which the United States was opposed to. [54] Churchill had been irked by the American support for China's claim to be a great power, and was attempting to secure Soviet support against the Sino-American campaign for greater power to China. [54] Once the topic returned to the Balkans, Stalin objected to the British demand for influence in Bulgaria, and soon it turned out that the real issue was Turkey. [54]

Accordingly, to the British transcript, Stalin was quoted as saying: "if Britain were interested in the Mediterranean, then Russia was equally interested in the Black Sea". [54] Stalin claimed that the Montreux convention of 1936 which governed the Turkish Straits was biased against the Soviet Union, and needed to be revised. [54] Stalin maintained that if Britain had the right to control the Suez canal regardless of what the Egyptians felt and likewise the United States had the right to control the Panama canal regardless of what the Panamanians felt, then so too did the Soviet Union have the right to control the Turkish straits regardless of what the Turks felt. [52] Though Churchill appeared sympathetic for Stalin's claim for the Soviet Union having "the right and moral claim for free passage" through the Turkish straits, he argued that it would take "gradual pressure" to persuade the Turks to accept it. [52] Churchill secured a promise from Stalin that the Red Army would not enter Greece, and then asked Stalin to "soft-peddle the Communists in Italy and not to stir them up", saying he wanted to let "pure democracy" decide whatever Italy remained a monarchy or become a republic. [52] Stalin replied that:

" . it was difficult to influence Italian Communists. The position of Communists differed in different countries. It depended upon their national situation. If Ercoli [Palmiro Togliatti, secretary-general of the Communist party of Italy] were in Moscow Marshal Stalin might influence him. But he was in Italy, where the circumstances were different. He could send Marshal Stalin to the devil. Ercoli could say he was an Italian and tell Marshal Stalin to mind his own business. However, Ercoli was a wise man, not an extremist, and would not start an adventure in Italy". [52]

Harriman did not attend the Churchill-Stalin summit in Moscow, but he did his best to keep Roosevelt informed about what was being discussed, though notably he never mentioned anything about percentages. [60] The information Harriman provided to his childhood friend Roosevelt about the Anglo-Soviet summit was generally accurate, though there was much about the Churchill-Stalin talks that he did not know about. [60] For the next several months, Roosevelt was ignorant of the full contents of the Moscow summit and the percentages agreement. [60]

After discussing Italy, the conversation once again turned towards Bulgaria, which Stalin claimed that the Bulgarian Communists were being restrained from their radicalism by the Red Army. [61] Stalin argued that the Soviets did not intend to use Bulgaria as a base to threaten Turkey, and objected to any British role in Bulgaria, which led Eden to reply that Britain was entitled to a "small share" after having been at war with Bulgaria for three years. [61] Bulgaria turned out to be the main difficulty during the meeting on 10 October between Eden and Molotov with Eden accusing the Bulgarians of mistreating British officers in Greek Thrace and wanted the Soviet Union to order them to treat British officers with respect, leading Molotov in a rare moment of wit to say the Soviets had just promised not to interfere in Greek internal affairs. [62] The main point soon turned to be the armistice with Bulgaria. [62] The armistices the Soviet Union had just signed with Romania and Finland gave power to an Allied Control Commission (ACC) which was to operate "under the general direction and orders" of the Soviet high command, in effect giving the Soviets the main say in those nations. [62] The American draft for the armistice with Bulgaria stated that the ACC for Bulgaria was to be responsible to the governments of the "Big Three" powers, and which Britain had agreed to accept. [63] Molotov wanted Eden to abandon British support for the American draft, and accept the Soviet draft, which was almost identical to the Finnish and Romanian armistices. [62] Eden refused to cede, which caused Molotov to bark that Bulgaria bordered the Black Sea, and if the Soviets were willing to accept that Britain had special interests in the Mediterranean, then so did the Soviet Union have special interests in the Black Sea, leading him to say "Bulgaria was not Italy, Spain, Greece or even Yugoslavia". [62] At one point, Molotov hinted that the Soviet Union was willing to accept the partition of Yugoslavia with Britain taking the Adriatic coast and the Soviet Union the interior, if only the British would cede Bulgaria. [64] On 11 October, Molotov offered Eden 20% influence in Bulgaria, and an amended armistice that stated the ACC in Bulgaria would act on the commands of the Soviet High Command, but with the "participation" of the British and American governments. [65] Eden agreed to Molotov's draft, and also agreed that the armistice with Hungary when signed would be identical to the Bulgarian armistice. [65]

In a telegram to Roosevelt sent on 11 October, Churchill wrote: "Stalin and I should try to get a common mind about the Balkans, so that we may prevent civil war breaking out in several countries, when probably you and I would be in sympathy with one side and U.J. ["Uncle Joseph"-i.e. Stalin] with the other. I shall keep you informed of all this, and nothing will be settled except preliminary agreements between Britain and Russia, subject to further discussion and melting down with you. On this basis I am sure you will not mind our trying to have a full meeting of minds with the Russians." [66] The same day Churchill sent a letter to Stalin saying that Britain had special ties to King Peter II and King George II of Greece, which made it a matter of British honour that they be restored to their thrones, though he also professed to believe that the peoples of the Balkans were entitled to choose any form of political system they liked except fascism. [67] Churchill stated the percentages were only "a method by which in our thoughts we can see how near we are together" and find a means to come closer. [67] Towards the War Cabinet upon his return to London on 12 October, Churchill stated the agreement was "only an interim guide for the immediate wartime future. . " [67] Churchill argued that ceding Romania to the Soviet sphere was only just because General Ion Antonescu had chosen to take part in Operation Barbarossa in June 1941. [67] Through Eden secured from Molotov a commitment that the Bulgarians were to pull out of the parts of Yugoslavia and Greece they had occupied, the problem of spheres of influence in Bulgaria and the Bulgarian armistice not gone away. [68] The Americans had now discovered an interest in Bulgaria after all, and the Secretary of State Cordell Hull insisted upon a text of armistice agreement that would give the American delegation on the ACC supervising Bulgaria an equal say with the Soviet delegation. [60] Through the American ambassador to Great Britain, John Gilbert Winant was outvoted at a meeting of the European Advisory Commission on 21 October 1944 about the text of the Bulgarian armistice, he also stated that this was not final and the United States was prepared to reopen the question at the next meeting of European Advisory Commission. [60]

It was only in 1958 that Soviet historians first acknowledged Churchill's account in Triumph and Tragedy, and only then to deny it. [69] The Soviet diplomatic historian Igor Zemskov wrote in the historical journal Mezhdunarodnaya zhizn that Churchill's claim of a percentages agreement was a "dirty, crude" lie with no basis in fact, saying no such offer had been made to Stalin, who would have rejected had it been made. [69] The charge that Stalin coldly and cynically abandoned EAM which was in a position to take over all of Greece in October 1944 proved damaging to his reputation in left-wing circles. Some historians, including Gabriel Kolko and Geoffrey Roberts believe that the importance of the agreement is overrated. [70] Kolko writes :

There is little significance to the memorable and dramatic passage in Churchill's autobiography recalling how he and Stalin divided Eastern Europe . Stalin's "tick," translated into real words, indicated nothing whatsoever. The very next day Churchill sent Stalin a draft of the discussion, and the Russian carefully struck out phrases implying the creation of spheres of influence, a fact Churchill excluded from his memoirs. [British Foreign Minister] Anthony Eden assiduously avoided the term, and considered the understanding merely as a practical agreement on how problems would be worked out in each country, and the very next day he and [Soviet Foreign Minister] Vyacheslav Molotov modified the percentages in a manner which Eden assumed was general rather than precise. [71]

Henry Butterfield Ryan writes, that "Eden and Molotov haggled over these quantities as though they were bargaining over a rug in a bazaar, with Molotov trying, eventually successfully, to trim Britain's figures." [3]

Most historians consider the agreement to be deeply significant, however. In The Cambridge History of the Cold War, Norman Naimark writes that together with the Yalta and Potsdam agreements, "the notorious percentages agreement between Joseph Stalin and Winston Churchill. confirmed that Eastern Europe, initially at least, would lie within the sphere of influence of the Soviet Union." [72]

In his acclaimed biography of Churchill, Roy Jenkins writes that the agreement "proposed Realpolitik spheres of influence in the Balkans. The [Foreign Office] record reported [Churchill] as saying that 'the Americans would be shocked if they saw how crudely he had put it.'" [73] Historian David Carlton similarly notes that "[With the October contract] a clear if informal deal had been done on the point that mattered most to Churchill: he had Stalin's consent to handle Greece as he saw fit." [74] Anthony Eden wrote that months before the meeting, he and Churchill had discussed the issue and "we felt entitled to ask for Soviet support for our policy [with regard to Greece] in return for the support we were giving to Soviet policy with regard to Romania." The British historian Richard Crampton described the agreement as "infamous" with Churchill and Stalin in a "cavalier fashion" dividing up Eastern Europe into spheres of influence with no effort to consult the peoples concerned. [75]

As Churchill saw it, the agreement was very favorable for Britain as EAM mostly controlled Greece, which Stalin agreed to accept as being in the British sphere of influence, while in exchange Britain recognised Bulgaria and Romania, which the Red Army already occupied, as being in the Soviet sphere of influence. [74] From the British viewpoint, having Greece in the British sphere of influence ended any possibility that EAM might come to power and then give the Soviet Union bases in Greece, whose location made that nation key to controlling the eastern Mediterranean, which for Churchill was far important than the rest of the Balkans. [76] The fact that Roosevelt did not share Churchill's enthusiasm for restoring King George II as the king of Greece was a crucial factor in reaching his own deal with Stalin about Greece and excluding the Americans. [77] Churchill feared that if Roosevelt was included in the talks about the future of Greece, then the Americans might side with the Soviets and agreed to recognise EAM as the legitimate government of Greece. [78] During the Dekemvriana fighting in Athens, Roosevelt issued a statement disapproving of the British fighting EAM, and in private stated he was appalled at the way in the British openly recruited the collaborationist Security Battalions who had loyally served Nazi Germany to fight with them against EAM. [79] Likewise, American media coverage of the Dekemvriana was overwhelmingly hostile towards the British with American journalists criticizing Churchill for recruiting the Security Battalions to fight for the unpopular King George. [79]

In response to American claims that Britain was exercising "power politics" in Greece, Churchill snapped back in a speech: "What are power politics. Is having a Navy twice as big as any other Navy in the world power politics? Is having the largest Air Force in the world, with bases in every part of the world power politics? Is having all the gold in the world power politics? If so, we are certainly not guilty of these offences, I am sorry to say. They are luxuries that have passed away from us." [80] Reflecting lingering bitterness over American criticism of his policy during the Dekemvriana, Churchill presented in Triumph and Tragedy the proclamation of the Truman Doctrine in 1947 as a belated American acknowledgement of the correctness of his Greek policy, writing how later events had "completely justified" his actions. [81] Churchill juxtaposed the statement from the Acting Secretary of State Dean Acheson in 1947 before the Senate that the victory for the Greek Communists in the Greek Civil War would be "dangerous" to the United States with American "vehement criticism" of British policy in the Dekemvriana. [81] At least part of the reason why Churchill revealed the percentages agreement in Triumph and Tragedy was to portray himself as a far-sighted statesman who had cleverly signed the percentages agreement to prevent the Soviet Union from supporting EAM. [81]

At the Yalta Conference (February 1945), Roosevelt suggested that the issues raised in the percentages agreement should be decided by the new United Nations. Stalin was dismayed because he wanted a Soviet sphere of influence in East Europe. [82]

According to Melvyn Leffler, Churchill "sought to renege" on the percentages agreement as the world war ended and Greece was secured. [83] This was especially the case as Churchill and Roosevelt kept such severe discretion around the agreement that their successors in office were not aware of it. [84] Stalin, meanwhile, initially believed the secret agreement was more important than the public deal at Yalta, leading to his perception of betrayal and a growing urgency to secure friendly governments on the USSR's border. [85]

Churchill's History of the Second World War books were written as much to influence the present as to understand the past. In the 1950s, Churchill was obsessed with the possibility of a nuclear war, and very much wanted to find a way to defuse the Cold War before it turned into a Third World War, which he believed might be the end of humanity. A major theme of the later volumes in the History of the Second World War series was that it was possible to reach an understanding with the Soviet Union. Given these concerns, Churchill presented the percentages agreement as a triumph of statecraft, with the obvious implication that this was the solution to the Cold War with the Western powers and the Soviet Union agreeing to respect each other's spheres of influence. [86] In a 1956 interview with CL Sulzberger, Churchill said:

Stalin never broke his word to me. We agreed on the Balkans. I said he could have Romania and Bulgaria, and he said we could have Greece…When we went in in 1944 Stalin didn't interfere. [87]

All the countries fell under Communist control with the exception of Greece, where the Communists lost the Greek Civil War. [88] After the Tito-Stalin split of 1948, Yugoslavia, which had been regarded as being in the Soviet sphere of influence, became neutral in the Cold War. Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary were in the Soviet sphere of influence after 1945. After 1956, Hungary under János Kádár stayed loyal to Moscow with regard to foreign affairs, but introduced significant reforms in the domestic sphere that were dubbed "Goulash Communism". [89] Romania under Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej was loyal to the Soviet Union at first, but started to show signs of independence from 1959 onward with Gheorghiu-Dej rejecting Soviet economic plans for Romania. [90] The Romanian tendency to move away from the Soviet sphere of influence increased under Nicolae Ceaușescu, who established diplomatic relations with West Germany in 1967, publicly criticized the Soviet invasions of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and of Afghanistan in 1979, and in 1971 visited China, which just fought a border war with the Soviet Union in 1969, to praise Mao Zeodong as a role model for Romania. [91] The Romanian tendency to praise China, which had challenged the Soviet Union for leadership of the Communist world, was seen widely both at home and abroad as anti-Soviet.

Marines avoided killing officers because of this symbol

Posted On July 07, 2018 20:10:15

The Marine Corps hosts countless customs and courtesies that dates back hundreds of years that are reflected in the way they conduct business today.

Their uniform is intended to display courage (their prideful history), commitment (years of service), and self-achievements (medals and ribbons).

To the untrained eye, it’s difficult to pick out a particular individual from a sea of Marines — especially amidst the chaos of war.

Related: This is why some Marines wear the ‘French Fourragere,’ and some don’t

Can you spot the Marine officer in the image below? If so, could you identify them from above with one-eye closed?

These Marines prepare to get into the sh*t after exiting an Osprey helicopter.

Back in the 1800s, it was a common practice for Marines and sailors to patrol up to an enemy vessel and forcefully board the ship while under heavy fire.

The Marine and Navy sharpshooters would position themselves high up in the ship’s riggings, providing overwatch as their brother-in-arms moved in.

A replica of a U.S. Marine officer’s uniform during the mid-1850s. (Source: Pinterest)

During the confusion of war, the sharpshooters would occasionally fire their weapons and kill friendly forces, including officers, as they fought the enemy in clusters.

Also Read: This is why sailors have 13 buttons on their trousers

According to popular legend, in 1859, “the quatrefoil” design was added and stitched onto the top of Marine officer’s cover to help identify them from the rest of the personnel.

The quatrefoil — adapted from the French — is a cross-shaped braid with many different symbolic interpretations. Some think of it as representing the four cardinal directions, while in architecture it is an icon of design (and it’s fancy).

The Marine quatrefoil

Whether or not this origin story is true remains ambiguous, but the quatrefoil nonetheless remains part of the officer uniform today.


Atlantic Charter

The Atlantic Charter was a statement issued on 14 August 1941 that set out American and British goals for the world after the end of World War II.

The joint statement, later dubbed the Atlantic Charter, outlined the aims of the United States and the United Kingdom for the postwar world as follows: no territorial aggrandizement, no territorial changes made against the wishes of the people (self-determination), restoration of self-government to those deprived of it, reduction of trade restrictions, global co-operation to secure better economic and social conditions for all, freedom from fear and want, freedom of the seas, and abandonment of the use of force, and disarmament of aggressor nations. The charter's adherents signed the Declaration by United Nations on 1 January 1942, which was the basis for the modern United Nations.

The charter inspired several other international agreements and events that followed the end of the war. The dismantling of the British Empire, the formation of NATO, and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) all derived from the Atlantic Charter.

In 2021, a document titled the "New Atlantic Charter" was signed by U.S. President Joe Biden and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson in their first meeting in Cornwall. [1]

Inside the World’s Most Important Diplomatic Meeting Ever

A madman wants to take over the world and/or destroy it. A group of people must ignore their differences long enough to defeat him. In superhero films, this happens all the time. In history, it’s happily rare. But this is what occurred on November 28, 1943 when U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and the Soviet Union’s General Secretary Joseph Stalin gathered for the Tehran Conference.

Of course, the Allies ultimately triumphed—both Germany and Japan surrendered within two years of this meeting. Knowing the outcome, it’s easy to focus on Tehran mostly in terms of being a preview of the Big Three’s Yalta and Potsdam conferences in 1945 that shaped the postwar order. Victory in World War II seems already a foregone conclusion.

This is a mistake. We need to remember how close both Britain and the U.S.S.R. came to collapse. We must keep in mind that even when it was clear that Germany wouldn’t win, it didn’t mean they would lose any time soon. And we can never forget just how massive Hitler’s crimes against humanity were, nor should we ignore that to the very end he was eager to commit more. With the help of Chuck Thompson—author of The 25 Best World War II Sites: European Theater and The 25 Best World War II Sites: Pacific Theater—this is a reminder of how high the stakes were. As Thompson puts it, “Let’s go back to how differently things might have happened.”

Making Slaughter a Science

Mankind has always gone to war. In the twentieth century, however, it became possible to kill in ways earlier generations never imagined. World War I’s innovations included machine guns, tanks, submarines, planes, and chemical warfare. By the time World War II rolled around, they were more sophisticated—more lethal. History is filled with ambitious generals who attack distant lands. Hannibal became a legend when he and his elephants crossed the Alps into Italy in just 16 days. Now planes made it possible to fly over them entirely and massacre one’s enemies without ever touching the ground.

This is to say that if Adolf Hitler came to power during an earlier century, his atrocities would have been on a lesser scale. World War II was a uniquely horrific moment for him to be in control. In the past, the Nazi blitzkrieg would have been far slower and less devastating. Germany wound up surging both West and East, far too often overrunning all they encountered. This was a conflict that drew in the bulk of the planet, with heavy combat on all three of the world’s most populous continents: Europe, Asia, and Africa.

Of course, ultimately the Nazi advance was stopped. Indeed, they were driven back and defeated completely. Yet their downfall was hardly certain. When discussing why Germany ultimately lost the war, Thompson cites three key factors.

The second: “American production.”

The third: “Crazy luck and fortune.”

Britain Barely Hanging On

“In hindsight, I can’t believe how close we were to letting England fall under Nazi control,” Thompson says. In particular, he cites the Battle of Britain in 1940. This aerial combat lasted for months as Germany attempted to establish air superiority before an actual invasion. Even the most patriotic British bettor might have hesitated to put his chip on Dear Old Blighty. After all, the Nazis had more aircraft and pilots with combat experience, having already swept across Europe. Beyond this, the U.S. offered limited assistance—it was still over a year away from Pearl Harbor officially putting an end to neutrality. (Thompson says his research found that help did come from other, often surprising places, notably “one pilot each from Jamaica and Palestine.”)

Yet Britain managed to come out on top. How? Thompson puts much of the blame on German leadership. The Luftwaffe was headed by Hermann Göring. Thompson calls him a man stuck in the past, thinking of his days as an ace “open cockpit World War I pilot.” Consequently, he was dismissive of radar. Happily, the British were not.

If Germany had triumphed, Thompson points out the Royal Air Force would have been unable to bomb a German invasion. What would that potentially mean for the Nazis? “Let’s say they just take a southern beachhead and hold it. Where does the D-Day invasion launch from? How does D-Day happen?”

And it wasn’t only in the West that Thompson found fortuitous breaks.

The Soviets Staggered

Thompson notes that the Nazis came unnervingly close to establishing a permanent foothold on the Eastern Front. Germany had correctly recognized that the Soviet Union was surprisingly vulnerable. Indeed, Stalin seemed to be inviting an invasion. Beyond putting a bit more stock in the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact than Hitler did, Stalin actually inflicted heavy casualties on his own military. More worried about internal threats than external ones, Thompson observes he “purged 3/4 of the Red Army’s senior officers in 1937 and 1938.”

Sure enough, the initial advance was unsettlingly successful: “At one point, the Nazis held half of the Soviet Union in terms of population and production” (though not land). But again there were miscalculations by German leadership. Thompson feels Hitler’s decision to split his forces in 1942 was a massive error. Similarly, Germany had failed to prepare for an unusually harsh Russian winter. They found themselves overwhelmed by an unexpected foe: Frostbite. Reportedly, German troops had a total of nearly 15,000 limbs amputated.

Yet the biggest problem was underestimating the Russian willingness to take casualties. Indeed, Thompson says Russian leaders were happy to contribute to the total: “I was over there doing research and talked to a couple of veterans. Two guys said to me, ‘We were as afraid of our own commanders as we were of the Germans.’” This was a reasonable concern: Thompson found at Stalingrad the Soviets executed “13,500 of their own men for cowardice.”

Thompson says the ruthlessness of both the Nazis and their own leadership led to 27 million Soviet deaths. To put this figure in perspective, Thompson puts U.S. casualties at 405,000 and Britain’s at 330,000, including civilians—whatever the exact figures may be, it’s clear the Soviets took the bulk of the losses. Of course, they also dealt out a disproportionate amount of damage: “Of the 13 million German soldiers killed, 10 million [of the deaths] were sustained on the Eastern Front.”

On December 4, 1943, the New York Times led with the headline: “ROOSEVELT, STALIN, CHURCHILL AGREE ON PLANS FOR WAR ON GERMANY IN TALKS AT TEHERAN [sic] 1,500 MORE TONS OF BOMBS DROPPED ON BERLIN.” The article noted the conference had been a secret until “Moscow radio” announced the trio had met a few days earlier in Iran. The Times noted that while “Mr. Churchill and Mr. Roosevelt had had seven previous conferences on the war,” it was “the first among the three leaders, and so far as is known it marked the first time that Mr. Stalin had left the Soviet Union since the revolution in 1917.”

It should be remembered how unlikely this meeting seemed in 1940. The U.S. was neutral and would remain that way until nearly the end of 1941. The Soviet Union actually had an agreement with Germany—Stalin was quite content to let Hitler do as he liked to Western Europe. Now Roosevelt and Churchill agreed to an invasion of France while Stalin would mount an offensive from the East. (Stalin also asserted that—Hitler’s betrayal aside—the borders laid out in the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact were still valid.)

By this point, neither Britain nor the U.S.S.R. was at risk of conquest. Earlier in 1943, the Allies had invaded Italy. Even the Siege of Leningrad—which would last nearly 900 days and result in hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths—was nearly at an end.

Yet the clock continued to tick. Until Hitler was defeated, much of the world remained at risk.

Civilizations Crushed

The Holocaust resulted in the deaths of at least five million Jews. But Nazi atrocities were hardly limited to a single group. Millions of civilians and prisoners of war died. This includes the butchering of 70,000 men, women, and children with mental and/or physical handicaps. It’s believed the Germans killed up to 220,000 Roma—a particularly horrific number considering there were less than one million in Europe when the war started.

The suffering wasn’t even limited to those marked for death. The Holocaust Museum notes Germany used forced labor from eight million people. The Nazis also engaged in extensive looting of artwork and other treasures. And when driven from conquered territory, Hitler shifted from cruelty to outright nihilism. Faced with the Allied liberation of France, he infamously intended to convert Paris into a “pile of rubble.” (Why this fate was avoided has long been debated, with theories ranging from the German forces no longer being in a position to carry out the order to General Dietrich von Choltitz declining to follow the instruction based on the theory he would be treated better by the Allies after the war ended.)

In short: Every day Hitler controlled a place was a day its inhabitants, its culture, its very history could be obliterated.

Of course, the Allies could rationalize delay based on the theory that, awful as this might be, it didn’t directly involve them. But that hardly put them in the clear.

Throughout the war, Germany had shown a knack for technological advances. “The Nazis had already invented jet engines,” Thompson says. “They had jet fighters right at the end.” And even as their conquests began to slip away, they strove for one final breakthrough that could save the Fatherland.

“The Germans were working feverishly on atomic weapons,” Thompson says.

Take a moment to think about Hitler with an atomic bomb. Think of the deaths he caused without one. Think of the fact he regarded even his own life as disposable, choosing suicide in the bunker as he died with his new bride and beloved dog. (He apparently tested his cyanide capsules on the pet.)

Obviously, America won the race to atomic weapons. But what if Germany also reached the finish line? Thompson states the obvious: If Hitler had the bomb, it’s reasonable to think he would have “been more willing to deploy it” than Harry S. Truman or any other American leader.

Imagining if the Unimaginable Were Even Worse

Again, Germany didn’t get the bomb. But what if Hitler had been able to continue to cling to power? What if, Thompson muses, World War II dragged on another “two or three or four years”? Would he have acquired that weapon and inflicted a final round of atrocities on the world? At a minimum, if Hitler had additional time in power, it’s likely parts of Europe have been obliterated forever, like Rome annihilating Carthage.

Stalin is often credited with saying, “The death of one person is a tragedy the death of one million is a statistic.” World War II’s carnage is so staggering that it’s difficult to process the fact it could have been worse. The Tehran Conference ensured that Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin were at last working in coordination to bring an end to the Nazis. Whatever the shortcoming of the Conference or the Allied effort in general, less than 18 months later Hitler was dead and Germany had surrendered, bringing to a close humanity’s darkest chapter. Thompson sums it up simply: “People forget how terrifying it was to be alive at that time.”

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Strange Bedfellows: Churchill and Stalin's Uneasy Alliance in World War II

With Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union, the Wehrmacht would now be confronted in a “giant clash of arms … on the broad plains of western Russia,” which would supplant Britain’s mostly feeble attempt up until then. Churchill’s conundrum was whether an ardent anti-Bolshevik should leap to Stalin’s aid. As a student of history, the prime minister knew that Operation Barbarossa would be to Hitler what the Russian invasion of 1812 was to Napoleon: a huge military blunder.

Also, Churchill possessed a large degree of emotion and humanity in this decision, stating, “The Russian danger is our danger and the danger of the United States, just as the cause of any Russian fighting for his hearth and home is the cause of free men and free peoples in every quarter of the globe.” Although capable of being Machiavellian, Churchill was making a sharp contradistinction between “the Russian people and the Soviet regime.”

Stalin, however, would not be grateful, and this perpetually irked Churchill. John Colville, Churchill’s private secretary, spoke with the prime minister on the day of the Russian invasion, and he asked “whether for him, the arch anti-Communist, this was not bowing down to the House of Rimmon. Mr. Churchill replied, ‘Not at all. I have only one purpose, the destruction of Hitler, and my life is much simplified thereby. If Hitler invaded Hell, I would make at least a favourable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons.’”

Britain was in no position to conduct a second front in Western Europe. Thus, Churchill resorted to a diplomatic ploy in which Britain would make no separate peace with Hitler. After all, Stalin was still paranoid about the nature of Deputy Führer Rudolf Hess’s flight to Britain in May 1941. The other offer that Churchill placed on the table was a share in Britain’s own Lend-Lease aid. Stalin wanted a variety of Lend-Lease goods from Britain that the United States was only just beginning to deliver to His Majesty’s government.

Churchill, who appreciated the shortfalls in his own country from both ill-preparedness and the frequent military defeats and evacuations, was compelled to comply with Stalin’s requests via a land route through Iran and an arduous and dangerous Arctic sea voyage to Murmansk and Archangel south of the Barents Sea. Stalin’s other demand, which was echoed by the newly awakened and increasingly vocal Communist Party in Great Britain, was for a second front against Germany to blunt the strength of the attack against the Soviets.

Churchill, who was always game to conduct a military adventure, initially considered mounting such an operation however, his more conservative and pragmatic military chiefs on the Imperial General Staff quickly dissuaded him from such an enterprise. Ultimately, Churchill had to settle for a limited bomber offensive, which in 1941 was incapable of disrupting Nazi industry, Hitler’s strategy, or the continued commitment of the German home front to the overall war effort.

Churchill committed himself to the support of Russia without thinking of the long-term consequences. The rationale for this decision was largely based on his total immersion in the short-term aim of defeating Hitler and his lack of expectations of any long-term consequences. Churchill’s willingness extended to lending aid and supporting the Russian people in defense of their homeland. Hitler, in one of his more memorable follies, had driven Stalin into Churchill’s arms. Stalin’s paranoia was nonetheless fully evident, as he believed that the British (and Americans) would not render any meaningful support to his regime until “they think we are out of breath and are ready for an armistice with Germany.”

Immediately after the invasion of the Soviet Union, Stalin’s ambassador in London, Ivan Maisky, met with the politician Lord Beaverbrook to discuss the possibility of a second front. According to Maisky’s war memoirs published after the conflict, “Beaverbrook’s attempt to interest the Cabinet in the question of a second front was unsuccessful. Churchill, as I had supposed, was unfavorable to this idea. He was supported by a majority of the members of the cabinet…. It becomes quite clear that the motive of aid to the USSR played a second- or third-rate part in organizing the invasion of France in the summer of 1944. And throughout the three years during which the struggle for the second front lasted, its main opponent invariably proved to be Winston Churchill, the prime minister of Great Britain. That was how in practice his formula that the British would give to the USSR in this war ‘whatever help we can’ was deciphered.”

This harsh criticism of Churchill by Maisky was temporally coincident not only with the ongoing struggle of the Eighth Army against Rommel in North Africa but with the building up of the Japanese juggernaut in the Far East, which in a matter of a few months would vanquish British and Commonwealth forces in Hong Kong, Malaya, Singapore, and Burma. Britain would be reeling to the easternmost borders of India. Ceylon and shipping in the Indian Ocean would be bombed by Japanese naval aircraft, and the hard-won victory in East Africa just months previously would appear to be in jeopardy. Churchill was candid when he informed the Russians that establishing a second front in northwest France or in the Arctic was just not feasible. The only problem was that no one in the Soviet hierarchy cared to believe him.

Stalin’s sense of reality was not entirely well grounded in his rude demands for material aid from Britain only one week after the invasion commenced. His list included 3,000 fighter aircraft, 20,000 light antiaircraft guns, radar, and night-fighting equipment. While Churchill was willing to give Stalin some cloaked Ultra decrypts about German troop movements, Churchill’s private secretary, John Colville, noted, “Molotov will tell us nothing beyond what is in the official communiqués. Now, in their hour of need, the Soviet government—or at any rate Molotov—is as suspicious and uncooperative as when we were negotiating a treaty in the summer of 1939.”

On July 3, Stalin made his first radio address to the Russian people about the war with Germany. Although Anglo-Soviet diplomatic activity was resumed at the beginning of July, Churchill, according to Maisky’s memoirs, was put out by the fact that Stalin did not in any way respond to his broadcast of June 22, but decided all the same to take the first step toward establishing more friendly relations with the head of the Soviet state. On July 7, 1941, Churchill sent Stalin a letter explaining that Britain’s help to the Soviet Union would take the form principally of air bombardment of Germany. Cripps personally handed Stalin this letter, and the Soviet leader stated that an Anglo-Soviet agreement should be reached stressing two points, namely, mutual aid during the war and the obligation not to sign a separate peace with Germany.

Stalin explicitly stated that he wanted a formal agreement with Britain to “allay his continuing suspicion that Churchill wanted to stand aside while Germany and Russia destroyed each other.” Two days later, Churchill replied to Stalin, “I should like to assure you that we are wholly in favour of the agreed declaration of purpose.” An agreement for mutual military assistance was signed on July 12, 1941, between Molotov and Cripps. Both of the just mentioned points were included.

Churchill was driven by one overwhelming motive: he needed Russia to continue fighting until the historically notorious winter months started, since a separate peace between Stalin and Hitler would only enable the Nazis to turn back on the British Isles again. In Churchill’s Anglo-Soviet agreement, the prime minister had to attend to American sentiments against any secret deals on European soil, thus, a limited pact was presented to the House of Commons. Furthermore, Stalin brazenly demanded in a July 18 message that a British attack in northern France and the Arctic be undertaken at once. Churchill responded to Maisky, saying that “unfortunately, what he asks is at present impracticable.” Stalin was furious at Churchill’s refusal to open a proposed second front where and when he requested it.

According to Maisky, Churchill began a detailed justification of his statement. In his words, the Germans had 40 divisions in France and had strongly fortified the coasts of France, Belgium, and Holland. The forces of Britain, which had for more than a year been fighting alone, were under extreme strain and scattered far from the home islands. In addition, the Battle of the Atlantic was still raging, consuming a vast amount of British naval and air resources, including substantial losses due to the U-boat menace. Churchill apologized that under present conditions, Britain was incapable of doing more than air bombardment of Germany.

On July 30, Stalin received Roosevelt’s adviser Harry Hopkins in Moscow. Hopkins’ report to Roosevelt made a deep impression on him, with important consequences. On August 15, Churchill and Roosevelt sent a combined message to Stalin from their Newfoundland meeting (the same meeting that produced the Atlantic Charter), saying, “We have taken the opportunity afforded by the report of Mr. Harry Hopkins on his return from Moscow to consult together as to how best our two countries can help your country.”

'Roosevelt and Stalin' details the surprisingly warm relationship of an unlikely duo

How FDR and Stalin forged a bond that helped to shape history.

A history book that’s mostly about a couple of meetings shouldn’t be a page-turner, especially when you have a pretty good idea about what’s going to happen. But Roosevelt and Stalin: Portrait of a Partnership manages to be more exciting than a million calls to order. And no wonder: When this odd couple meets, the future of the world is on the line.

On one side of the equation is President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a consummate charmer who’s as full of manipulative bonhomie as ever when he twice meets with the Soviet leader. For his part, a short and stocky Joseph Stalin grins and bursts into a delighted laugh when he first walks up to FDR.
Stalin grins and laughs? Stalin? This is just one of many surprising moments in “Roosevelt and Stalin,” which intricately tracks the World War II negotiations between three powerful men over the future of the planet.

Stalin in person turns out to be much more complicated than the common depiction of him as a ruthless monster. Armed with Clinton-style charm – yes, you read that right – Stalin is suspicious and paranoid too. But he has plenty of reasons to be both. So does the third big shot whose name doesn’t even make it into the title of this book: Winston Churchill, the British prime minister and odd man out who can’t break through the cozy FDR-Stalin twosome.

Author Susan Butler is the perfect historian to explore the connections between the two men since she’s author of “My Dear Mr. Stalin: The Complete Correspondence of FDR and Joseph V. Stalin.” The 2006 compilation was well-received by reviewers who managed to get past the startling title (“My Dear Mr. Stalin”!), but the letters take a back seat to eyewitness accounts in “Roosevelt and Stalin.”

The pair of Big Three conferences – in 1943 in Tehran and in 1945 in Yalta – focus more on the future than the present, even though World War II isn’t over yet. Each man has a different goal: FDR wants to see the creation of a United Nations to enforce the post-war peace, while a Churchill hopes to preserve the British empire, and Stalin has his eye on eliminating the German threat. Roosevelt is the only one in the catbird seat, however, and Stalin has plenty of reasons to make him happy while Churchill sulks.

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For one thing, Roosevelt pushed for the US to recognize the Soviet Union well before Pearl Harbor, despite the pesky matter of communists despising capitalists and vice versa. And he supported US help for Russia when “most Americans still thought of Europe’s problems as being as far away as the moon.”

Butler isn’t a master storyteller, but she has a firm grasp on dozens of other details from FDR’s infamous non-stop talking to Stalin’s honey-colored eyes and fireplug body. (An American says he’s “the coach’s perfect dream of a tackle” with huge hands “as hard as his mind.”) The two men bond by making fun of an annoyed Churchill, and Stalin even teases FDR by acting offended to learn he’s called “Uncle Joe” behind the scenes.

Butler also captures near-disasters, like when a miffed British general declares in a toast that his country has suffered more than Russia, and she expertly deciphers the many moments of manipulation. In a discussion of Poland and his own re-election hopes in 1944, for example, FDR somehow convinces Stalin that Polish voters in the US are much more powerful than they are.

Roosevelt, who’s energetic, pragmatic and “devious” even as his health declines, comes across as the most effective and visionary of the trio. He usually gets what he wants and needs, and the story of how he does it turns this book into a master class in the arts of negotiation and diplomacy.

But FDR has a huge blind spot. Up until the very end, “Roosevelt and Stalin” virtually never mentions a man who forever annoyed the Russians by declaring in 1941 that “if we see that Germany is winning, we ought to help Russia, and if Russia is winning, we ought to help Germany, and that way let them kill as many as possible.”

This man’s name is Harry Truman. When Roosevelt dies in 1945, just weeks after the Yalta conference, the vice president knows virtually nothing about the wartime talks and has never even spent a second inside the White House’s Map Room brain center.

Truman would learn about the nuclear bomb, which spawned an intense debate in the Roosevelt Administration about whether to mention it to the Soviets, America’s supposed allies. In fact, they’d already figured out something was up.

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Despite this fault line over trust with FDR, the Soviets would later mourn a safer world they believed Roosevelt would have created if he’d lived. To them, he was a dear friend who passed away too soon.

But FDR still accomplished plenty. The unlikely cooperation between the capitalist and the communist, the product of human warmth and trust, created the flawed but essential United Nations. As Churchill sulked, Roosevelt and Stalin grinned and charmed and arm-twisted their way to victory and the world beyond the war. We all live in their legacy.

REVIEW – Churchill and Stalin: comrades-in-arms during the Second World War

As Churchill liked to say, to defeat the Nazis the Russians gave their blood, the Americans their money, and Britain held out for the crucial year from the summer of 1940.

The ‘Grand Alliance’ between Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin came about to defeat Hitler’s Germany. Despite massive political, cultural, and ideological divisions, the alliance survived for four years, and this new book foregrounds the intense but fragile relationship between Churchill and Stalin at its core. It uses a mass of Russian archival material to provide new insights on the relationship that helped win the war.

Although he had led the fight against Bolshevism in 1919-1920, Churchill came during the war years to admire Stalin as a determined warrior-leader. He saw Stalin as a man to respect, as a ‘comrade-in-arms’.

The book is written by two leading western scholars and one prominent Russian historian, now dead. It tracks the roller-coaster of the wartime relationship. At their first meeting in August 1942, Stalin insulted Churchill by suggesting that the British Army was acting in a cowardly way, but they still parted as friends after a late-night drinking session.

Over the next year, Churchill was upset by several disagreements with Stalin, convincing himself that the ‘Kremlin gang’ were hostile to Britain, but his friendship with Stalin could keep the relationship on track.

At the first Big Three summit in Tehran, Churchill felt Roosevelt was trying to bond with Stalin behind his back, but again cheered up after personal meetings with the Soviet leader.

In the famous ‘percentages agreement’ at their October 1944 meeting, Churchill believed he and Stalin had a joint understanding of the post-war world. The Yalta Conference was less happy, and towards the end of the war he found Stalin infuriating, and was maddened at Roosevelt’s failure to stand up to the Soviet leader.

Despite these frustrations, both men continued to hold each other in high regard into the early years of the Cold War. Many, like Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden, felt that Stalin had cast a ‘spell’ over Churchill, who could be enraged by the Soviet leader at a distance but always seemed to be charmed by him face to face.

Strange structure

The book suffers from a rather strange structure that is nowhere clearly explained. After a 70-page outline of the relationship using mostly Western sources, the book then provides a 200-page commentary going back over all the key stages, quoting extensively from a collection of Soviet documents from Rzheshevsky’s previous Russian-language books. These include records of the conversations between the two leaders when they met.

From this commentary, many new insights emerge. Most fascinating is to follow the to-ing and fro-ing between the two leaders. Stalin could be blunt, coming on rude. Churchill was upset by this, but was expansive, often full of what Eden called ‘guff ’.

Stalin suggested that between themselves the Allies did not have to agree. Churchill preferred to get along and stressed that outwardly they must always present a unified front.

It must have been extraordinary to be present at these meetings. For instance, the translator at Churchill’s first meeting with Stalin found it immensely difficult to keep up with the Prime Minister and to translate into appropriate Russian Churchill’s rhetorical flourishes.

There are recurrent themes throughout their meetings. Pressure from Stalin for a Second Front in northern Europe: he never saw the Mediterranean campaigns as drawing German divisions away from the Eastern Front (although they did in a small way). Demands from Churchill for a vibrant, democratic Poland after the war: Stalin glossed over these. ‘We entered the war to defend Poland,’ Churchill tells Stalin. ‘We need reliable neighbours on our borders to ensure our security,’ Stalin tells Churchill.

Ever since Churchill made public in his wartime memoirs the ‘percentages agreement’ on dividing the Balkans between British and Soviet interests, he has been accused of cynically dividing up post-war Europe. Interestingly, while the Soviet account of the meeting stressed how Churchill wanted an off-the-record agreement with Stalin, there was no mention of a document agreed between them. Stalin made clear he would only accept formal treaties as binding.

Although Churchill defended the informal agreement by claiming it ensured Greece remained in the Western camp, the impression remains that Stalin was able to dupe the British Prime Minister into thinking he had won greater concessions than he had.

Historians usually see in the summits at Yalta and Potsdam the divisions that transformed World War into Cold War. But the Russian documents reveal Stalin’s optimism at the time that the Grand Alliance would help preserve peace in the post-war era.

At one of the endless toasts that accompanied the formal dinners, Stalin paid tribute to Churchill leading Britain alone in 1940, saying he could think of no other instance in history ‘where the future of the world depended on the courage of one man.’

Churchill and Stalin provides an intriguing and detailed insight into how two of the 20th century’s leading figures presented their cases to each other and negotiated their positions. Accounts of their face-to-face meetings are fascinating. The book’s slightly odd structure makes it a complex read, but it is a stimulating one nonetheless.

Review by Taylor Downing

This article was published in the October/November issue of Military History Matters. To find out more about the magazine and how to subscribe, click here.

Why The Alliance between Stalin and Churchill Was Based on Pragmatism

Churchill may not have thought highly of the Soviet leader, but he viewed them as an essential ally to help Britain deal with Nazi Germany.

On July 30, Stalin received Roosevelt’s adviser Harry Hopkins in Moscow. Hopkins’ report to Roosevelt made a deep impression on him, with important consequences. On August 15, Churchill and Roosevelt sent a combined message to Stalin from their Newfoundland meeting (the same meeting that produced the Atlantic Charter), saying, “We have taken the opportunity afforded by the report of Mr. Harry Hopkins on his return from Moscow to consult together as to how best our two countries can help your country.”

Both Churchill and Roosevelt went on to report that shiploads of supplies had been dispatched to the USSR, and they proposed a high-level meeting to take place in Moscow in the near future. Maisky admitted in his memoirs that, “in addition to everything else, British Lend-Lease greatly facilitated our receipt of American Lend-Lease.” Churchill’s granting of Lend-Lease materials to the Soviets on September 5, 1941, was a significant precedent that enabled Roosevelt to extend the Lend-Lease Act to the USSR, since there were groups in America that strongly objected to aiding the Soviets without payment. Upon being informed by Churchill about the basis of British Lend-Lease to the USSR, Stalin responded on September 13, 1941, “Please accept my thanks for the promise of monthly British aid in aluminum, aircraft, and tanks. I can but be glad that the British government contemplates this aid, not as a transaction of selling and buying aircraft, aluminum and tanks, but in the shape of comradely cooperation.”

At the end of August, Churchill cabled Stalin, “I have been searching for any way to give you help in your splendid resistance, pending the long-term arrangements which we are discussing with the United States of America…. You will, I am sure, realize that fighter aircraft are the foundation of our home defence, besides which we are trying to obtain air superiority in Libya and also to provide Turkey so as to bring her in on our side. Nevertheless, I could send 200 more Hurricanes, making 440 fighters in all.” This offer by Churchill promised no chance of fulfilling the Soviet dictator’s massive request list for aid. Thus, as the fall of 1941 approached, Churchill still had only a rather chilly alliance with Stalin, whose paranoia about Britain’s “temporizing policies” was a chief obstacle to more cordial relations.

On September 4, Ambassador Maisky delivered Stalin’s response to Churchill’s offer of additional fighter aircraft, stating, “I must say that these aircraft … cannot seriously change the situation of the eastern front.” Maisky continued: “If Russia were defeated, how could Britain win?” The suspicion between Stalin and Churchill was still paramount. Churchill’s permanent undersecretary of state for foreign affairs, Sir Alexander Cadogan, noted that Stalin suspected Britain’s dalliance was motivated by thoughts of Germany and Russia destroying each other, while Churchill was extremely wary that the Soviet Union would make another armistice with Hitler.

History must accord Churchill praise that he was at least candid with Stalin about Britain’s inaction over a second front. He cabled the dictator on September 6, “Although we should shrink from no exertion, there is in fact no possibility of any British action in the West except air action, which would draw the German forces from the East before winter sets in. There is no chance whatever of a second front being formed in the Balkans without the help of Turkey.”

At least Churchill the historian was aware of Napoleon’s fate before Moscow in 1812, when the harsh Russian winter arrived. Stalin, however, was still unmoved by Churchill’s response and stated to the Politburo, “What a revolting answer!” Churchill did not have to wait long for nature’s intervention on the Eastern Front the first snows began to fall on September 12. Stalin was not just rude to Churchill in his official correspondence. At a meeting with an Anglo-American mission headed by Lord Beaverbrook and Averell Harriman, the latter being Roosevelt’s personal Lend-Lease envoy to Britain, Stalin chided the pair, “The paucity of your offers clearly shows that you want to see the Soviet Union defeated.”

Churchill, too, had suspicions about the motives of the United States. The prime minister was worried that Roosevelt and his main emissary, Hopkins, would preferentially shunt weapons to the Soviet Union at the expense of aid given to Great Britain. This thought was to plague Churchill throughout the war, even though he knew that during 1941, only one percent of Britain’s weapons were to come from Lend-Lease with the United States.

As the Moscow assault was underway in early October, Stalin demanded that Churchill send 25-30 British divisions to the Soviet Union. The prime minister sought the recommendations of his war cabinet on October 27, and both concluded that Stalin’s request could not be met. On November 7, Stalin rifled off a cable to Churchill in which he harangued, “There is no definite understanding between our two countries concerning war aims and plans for the postwar organization of peace. Secondly, there is no treaty between the USSR and Great Britain on mutual military aid in Europe against Hitler.”

Stalin did not mince words: without a clarification of these issues, “there [would] be no mutual trust.” On November 10, when Churchill was shown the cable from Stalin, the prime minister flew into a rage: “Why did Stalin need to add such a tone to our correspondence?… I can’t tolerate this…. Who benefits from it? Neither you nor us, only Hitler! I was the one who, without any doubt, volunteered to help Russia on 22 June. Who needs these debates and disagreements? We are fighting, and we will keep fighting for our lives whatever happens!”

As a result of this Churchillian outburst, Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden was invited to Moscow to smooth over the mutual distrust. There must have been some rapprochement or, perhaps to Stalin’s delight, the Russian winter continued to worsen on the Moscow front, because the Soviet dictator wished Churchill “hearty birthday greetings” on November 29.

In November 1941, Churchill’s hopes resided in General Claude Auchinleck’s Operation Crusader to liberate Tobruk and eject Rommel from the Egyptian frontier. The operation achieved some of its immediate military goals, but it failed to change any political fortunes for Britain. Vichy France and Spain remained neutral. Likewise, the United States, despite Roosevelt’s leanings, also remained neutral since only Congress had the constitutional power to declare war, and that body was still very much isolationist. Nature intervened on December 5, however, when temperatures fell to -32 degrees Fahrenheit outside Moscow. Stalin counterattacked the exhausted and unprepared Germans, forcing them to retreat days before the United States entered into the conflict, courtesy of the Japanese.

There were some areas in which Churchill and Stalin actively participated together. After the suppression of Rashid Ali’s pro-German revolt in Iraq in June 1941, there was a suspicion that a similar event might occur in Iran, since Rashid Ali, the grand mufti of Jerusalem, and their supporters had fled to Iran when their insurrection was beaten back. By the end of July, Churchill had decided that Britain and Russia could cooperate in securing Iran and her oil supplies for the Allied cause, as well as creating an overland route of supply to the Soviet Union. On December 6, 1941, at Stalin’s request, Britain declared war on Finland, Hungary, and Romania, since troops from these three countries were actively combating the Soviets.

Historical revisionists have pondered just how much information Stalin received from the British in regard to a German invasion, and furthermore, what Churchill’s intent at disseminating such intelligence findings actually was. Even Maisky stated, “I had more than once already let Moscow know that an attack by Hitlerite Germany was close, almost around the corner.”

On June 21, Ambassador Cripps met with Maisky in London and informed him, “We have reliable information that this attack will take place tomorrow 22 June…. You know that Hitler always attacks on Sundays…. I wanted to inform you of this.” Dutifully, Maisky sent yet another urgent cipher message about this communication to Moscow, yet Stalin chose to ignore the warnings. Such was the nature of the distrustful relationship between Churchill and Stalin, which became an uneasy alliance after the German invasion commenced on June 22, 1941.

Stalin-Mao Alliance Was Uneasy, Newly Released Papers Show

Scholars have unearthed official records of the two meetings between Stalin and Mao. Along with Mao's commentaries on the meetings, they suggest that the Chinese-Soviet alliance that the two men made in Moscow 45 winters ago was founded on shaky ground.

The transcripts of the December 1949 and January 1950 sessions, obtained from Soviet archives, had long been sought by historians of the cold war. The documents, to be published by the Cold War International History Project of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, contain no great revelations, only the give and take between the leading Communist titans, and tyrants, of the cold war. Stalin gives more than he takes.

The first meeting took place in Moscow on Dec. 16, 1949, only months after Mao's revolutionary army had taken control of China. Stalin, taking the attitude of the chairman of the board talking to the chief of a subsidiary, advised Mao that he thought China would have peace for the foreseeable future.

"Japan has yet to stand up on its feet," the transcript quotes Stalin as saying, "and is thus not ready for war. America, though it screams war, is actually afraid of war more than anything. Europe is afraid of war."

Mao asked Stalin "to send volunteer pilots or secret military detachments to speed up the conquest of Formosa," the island, now known as Taiwan, to which the Chinese Nationalists retreated after losing the mainland to the Communists.

Stalin demurred, promising only to consider the request, and paternalistically advised Mao to foment his own uprising. He went on to tell Mao how to run his country in a dozen different ways: establish mine inspectors, build oil pipelines, create a weather service.

Stalin initially startled Mao by seeming to renege on a deal, informally agreed to by the two countries' diplomats, to do away with provisions of the 1945 Yalta accord governing relations between the Soviet Union and the since-defeated Nationalist Government of China. As leaders of the Allied powers of World War II, Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill reached an uneasy concord on the fate of nations, including China, in the war's aftermath.

Stalin and Mao danced around the issue of revising the accord and decided to raise it at their next meeting. In a telegram back to Beijing after the meeting, he called Stalin "really sincere."

Mao then cooled his heels for 17 days, waiting for another audience with Stalin. He appears to have been unhappy waiting in a dacha in the Moscow winter. In a 1958 conversation with the Soviet Ambassador in Beijing, obtained from Chinese archives and to be published with the earlier records, Mao railed at his perceived mistreatment.

"I got so angry that I once pounded the table," he recalled.

When they met again, Stalin changed his tune on Yalta provisions regarding key points in Chinese-Soviet relations. He said he would indeed abrogate them.

The next month, the two nations signed a Chinese-Soviet Treaty, which opened what the United States saw as a new front in the cold war. But the new records and recently released documents from Chinese archives suggest that the alliance did not have a strong foundation and may have been foredoomed.

The Russians "have never had faith in the Chinese people, and Stalin was among the worst," Mao told the Soviet Ambassador, Pavel Yudin, in 1958, five years after Stalin's death and about the time that deep fissures in the Chinese-Soviet alliance were appearing.

Watch the video: Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin meet at Yalta 1945 (May 2022).