Military history

Chapter 3

IN THE QUIET of his study at No. 10 Downing Street, Winston Churchill sat hunched in his favorite leather chair, telephone cupped to his ear. The Prime Minister was listening to his Chief of Staff, General Sir Hastings Ismay, read a copy of Montgomery’s message to the Supreme Commander. The Field Marshal’s promise of “utmost speed and drive” was good news indeed; even better was his declared intention of heading for Berlin. “Montgomery,” the Prime Minister told Ismay, “is making remarkable progress.”

After months of stormy discussion between British and U.S. military leaders, Allied strategy seemed to have smoothed out. General Eisenhower’s plans, outlined in the fall of 1944 and approved by the Combined Chiefs of Staff at Malta in January, 1945, called for Montgomery’s Twenty-first Army Group to make the main drive over the Lower Rhine and north of the Ruhr; this was the route that Churchill, in a letter to Roosevelt, had called “the shortest road to Berlin.” In the south, American forces were to cross the river and head into the Frankfurt area, drawing off the enemy from Montgomery. This supplementary advance could become the main line of attack if Montgomery’s offensive faltered. But as far as Churchill was concerned, the matter was settled. The “Great Crusade” was nearing its end, and for Churchill it was immensely satisfying that of all the Allied commanders it was the hero of El Alamein who seemed destined to capture the enemy capital. The Twenty-first Army Group had been specially reinforced for the offensive, with top priority in troops, air support, supplies and equipment. In all, Montgomery had under his command almost one million men in some thirty-five divisions and attached units, including the U. S. Ninth Army.

Four days before, Churchill had traveled with General Eisenhower to Germany to witness the opening phase of the river assault. As he stood on the banks of the Rhine watching the monumental offensive unfold, Churchill said to Eisenhower, “My dear General, the German is whipped. We’ve got him. He’s all through.”

And indeed, enemy resistance proved surprisingly light in most areas. In the U.S. Ninth Army sector, where two divisions—about 34,000 men—crossed shoulder to shoulder with the British, there were only thirty-one casualties. Now, Montgomery had more than twenty divisions and fifteen hundred tanks across the river and was driving for the Elbe. The road to Berlin—which Churchill had called “the prime and true objective of the Anglo-American armies”—seemed wide open.

It was open politically, too. There had never been any Big Three discussions about which army would take the city. Berlin was an open target, waiting to be captured by the Allied army that reached it first.

However, there had been discussions, plenty of them, regarding the occupation of the rest of the enemy nation—as the sectors laid out in the Operation Eclipse maps indicated. And the decisions regarding the occupation of Germany were to have a crucial effect on the capture and political future of Berlin. At least one of the Allied leaders had realized this from the start. “There will definitely be a race for Berlin,” he had said. That man was Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

It had been seventeen months earlier, on November 19, 1943, that the matter was brought before Roosevelt. On that occasion the President had sat at the head of the table in a conference room of Admiral Ernest J. King’s suite aboard the battleship, U.S.S. Iowa. Flanking him were assistants and advisors, among them the U. S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. Roosevelt was en route to the Middle East for the Cairo and Teheran conferences—the fifth and sixth of the Allied leaders’ wartime meetings.

These were momentous days in the global struggle with the Axis powers. On the Russian front the Germans had suffered their biggest and bloodiest defeat: Stalingrad, encircled and cut off for twenty-three days, had fallen, and more than 300,000 Germans had been killed, wounded or taken prisoner. In the Pacific, where more than one million Americans were fighting, the Japanese were being forced back on every front. In the West, Rommel had been routed from North Africa. Italy, invaded from Africa via Sicily, had surrendered; the Germans were hanging on grimly to the northern part of the country. And now the Anglo-Americans were preparing plans for the coup de grâce—Operation Overlord, the all-out invasion of Europe.

Aboard the Iowa, Roosevelt was showing sharp annoyance. The documents and maps before him were the essentials of a plan called Operation Rankin, Case C, one of many studies developed in connection with the forthcoming invasion. Rankin C considered the steps that should be taken if there was a sudden collapse or capitulation of the enemy. In that event the plan suggested that the Reich and Berlin should be divided into sectors, with each of the Big Three occupying a zone. What troubled the President was the area that had been chosen for his country by the British planners.

Rankin C had been created under peculiar and frustrating circumstances. The one man most directly affected by its provisions would be the Allied Supreme Commander in Europe. But this officer was still to be appointed. The difficult task of trying to plan ahead for the Supreme Commander—that is, to prepare both the cross-channel offensive, Operation Overlord, and a plan in the event Germany crumbled, Operation Rankin—had been given to Britain’s Lieutenant General Frederick E. Morgan,* known by thecode name “COSSAC” (Chief of Staff to the Supreme Allied Commander, designate). It was a staggering and thankless job. When he was named to the post, Morgan was told by Sir Alan Brooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff: “Well there it is; it won’t work, of course, but you must bloody well make it!”

In preparing Rankin C Morgan had to consider all sorts of imponderables. What would happen if the enemy capitulated so abruptly that the Allies were caught off balance, as they were in World War I by the unforeseen German surrender of November, 1918? Whose troops would go where? What parts of Germany would be occupied by American, British and Russian forces? Who would take Berlin? These were the basic questions, and they had to be solved in clear and decisive ways if the Allies were not to be surprised by a sudden collapse.

Up to that time no specific plan for the war’s end had ever been set down. Although in the United States and Britain various governmental bodies discussed the problems that would arise on the cessation of hostilities, little headway was made in the formulation of an overall policy. There was agreement on only one point: that the enemy country would be occupied.

The Russians, by contrast, had no difficulty arriving at a policy. Occupation had always been taken for granted by Josef Stalin and he had always known exactly how he would go about it. As far back as December, 1941, he bluntly informed Britain’s Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden, of his post-war demands, naming the territories he intended to occupy and annex. It was an impressive list: included in his victory booty Stalin wanted recognition of his claims to Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia; that part of Finland which he had taken when he attacked the Finns in 1939; the province of Bessarabia in Rumania; that part of eastern Poland which the Soviets had overrun in 1939 by agreement with the Nazis; and most of East Prussia. As he calmly laid down his terms guns were firing only fifteen miles from the Kremlin, in the Moscow suburbs, where German forces were still fighting desperately.

Although the British considered Stalin’s 1941 demands premature to say the least,* by 1943 they were preparing plans of their own. The British Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden, had recommended that Germany be totally occupied and divided among the Allies into three zones. A cabinet body called the Armistice and Post-war Committee was thereupon set up under Deputy Prime Minister Clement Attlee, head of the Labour Party. The Attlee group issued a broad recommendation which also advocated a tripartite division, with Britain occupying the industry- and commerce-rich northwestern areas. Berlin, it was suggested, should be jointly occupied by the three powers. The only Ally with virtually no plans for a defeated Germany was the United States. The official U.S. view was that post-war settlements should await a time nearer the final victory. Occupation policy, it was felt, was primarily a military concern.

But now, with the collective strength of the Allies beginning to be felt on every front and with the tempo of their offensives mounting, the need for coordinating political planning had become acute. In October, 1943, at the Foreign Ministers Conference in Moscow, the first tentative step was taken to define a common Allied post-war policy. The Allies accepted the idea of joint responsibility in the control and occupation of Germany, and set up a tripartite body, the European Advisory Commission (EAC), to “study and make recommendations to the three governments upon European questions connected with the termination of hostilities.”

But in the meantime Morgan had produced his plan—a rough blueprint for the occupation of Germany—“prepared,” he later explained, “only after a powerful amount of crystal-ball gazing.” Initially, without political guidance, Morgan had produced a plan calling for a limited occupation. But his final Rankin C proposals reflected the Attlee committee’s more elaborate scheme. Morgan had sat down with a map and divided Germany into mathematical thirds, “faintly sketching in blue pencil along the existing provincial boundaries.” It was obvious that the Russians, driving from the east, must occupy an eastern sector. The division between the Anglo-Americans and the Russians in the revised Rankin C plan was a suggested line running from Lübeck on the Baltic to Eisenach in central Germany and from there to the Czech border. What the extent of the Soviet zone would be was of no concern to Morgan. He had not been asked to consider that since it “would naturally be the affair of the Russians who were not included in our COSSAC party.” But Berlin did bother him, for it would lie within the Russian sector. “Were we to continue to regard the place as a capital or was there to be a capital at all?” he wondered. “The internationality of the operation suggested that occupation of Berlin or any other capital, were there to be one, should be in equal tripartite force, by a division each of United States, British and Russian troops.”

As for the British and American zones, their north-south relationship seemed to Morgan to have been predetermined by one seemingly ridiculous but relevant fact: the location of the British and American bases and depots back in England. From the time the first American troops arrived in the United Kingdom they had been quartered first in Northern Ireland and later in the south and southwest of England. British forces were situated in the north and southeast. Thus the concentration of troops, their supplies and communications were separate—the Americans always on the right, the British on the left facing the continent of Europe. As Morgan foresaw Overlord, this design was to continue across the Channel to the invasion beaches of Normandy—and, presumably, through Europe to the heart of Germany itself. The British were to enter northern Germany and liberate Holland, Denmark and Norway. On the right, the Americans, following their line of advance through France, Belgium and Luxembourg, would end up in the southern German provinces.

“I do not believe,” Morgan said later, “that anyone at the time could have realized the full and ultimate implications of the quartering decision—which in all probability was made by some minor official in the War Office. But from it flowed all the rest.”

Aboard the Iowa, the President of the United States realized the full and ultimate implications perfectly well. Those implications were precisely what he did not like about the Rankin C plan. Immediately the afternoon session began at 3 P.M., Roosevelt launched into the subject, and he was plainly irritated. Commenting on the accompanying memorandum, in which the Chiefs of Staff asked for guidance on Morgan’s revised plan, Roosevelt rebuked his military advisors for “making certain suppositions”—in particular, that the U.S. should accept the British proposal to occupy southern Germany. “I do not like that arrangement,” declared the President. He wanted northwest Germany. He wanted access to the ports of Bremen and Hamburg, and also those of Norway and Denmark. And Roosevelt was firm on something else: the extent of the U.S. zone. “We should go as far as Berlin,” he said. “The U.S. should have Berlin.” Then he added: “The Soviets can take the territory to the east.”

Roosevelt was also displeased by another aspect of Rankin C. The U.S., in the south, would have a sphere of responsibility that included France, Belgium and Luxembourg. He was worried about France, and especially about the leader of the Free French Forces, General Charles de Gaulle, whom he saw as a “political headache.” As forces advanced into that country, the President told his advisors, De Gaulle would be “one mile behind the troops,” ready to take over the government. Above all, Roosevelt feared that civil war might break out in France when the war ended. He did not want to be involved, he said, “in reconstituting France. France,” declared the President, “is a British baby.”

And not only France. He felt that Britain should have the responsibility for Luxembourg and Belgium as well—and for the southern zone of Germany. As for the American zone—as the President visualized it, it would sweep across northern Germany (including Berlin) all the way to Stettin on the Oder. Then once again, measuring his words, he emphasized his displeasure over proposed zonal arrangements. “The British plan for the U.S. to have the southern zone,” Roosevelt said, “and I do not like it.”

The President’s suggestions startled his military advisors. Three months before, at the Quebec Conference, the Joint Chiefs had approved the plan in principle. So had the Combined American and British Chiefs of Staff. At that time, President Roosevelt expressed great interest in the division of Germany and added his weight to the urgency of the planning by expressing the desire that troops should “be ready to get to Berlin as soon as the Russians.”

The Joint Chiefs had believed the issues involved in Rankin C were all settled. They had brought up the plan on the Iowa only because political and economic matters, as well as military policy, were involved. Now the President was challenging not only the occupation plan but the very basis of Operation Overlord itself. If the projected zones of occupation were switched to accommodate the President’s wishes, a troop changeover would have to be made in England before the invasion. This would delay—and might thus jeopardize—the cross-Channel offensive, one of the most complicated operations ever undertaken in any war. It seemed clear to his military advisors that President Roosevelt either did not understand the immense logistical movements involved—or understood them perfectly well and was simply prepared to pay a phenomenal cost in order to get the northwest zone and Berlin for the United States. In their view, the cost was prohibitive.

General Marshall began diplomatically to elaborate on the situation. He agreed “that the matter should be gone into.” But, he said, the Rankin C proposals stemmed from prime military considerations. From a logistical standpoint, he reasoned, “We must have U.S. forces on the right … the whole matter goes back to the question of the ports of England.”

Admiral Ernest King, U.S. Chief of Naval Operations, backed Marshall; the invasion plans were so far developed, he said, that it would be impractical to accept any change in the deployment of troops.

The immensity of the problem was such that Marshall believed an entire new scheme would be needed just for the switching of troops—one flexible enough to be applied “at any stage of development” in order to get the President what he wanted in Germany.

Roosevelt didn’t think so. He felt that if there was a total collapse of Hitler’s Reich the U.S. would have to get as many men as possible into Germany, and he suggested that some of them could be sent “around Scotland”—thereby entering Germany on the north. It was at this point that he expressed certainty that the Allies would race for Berlin; in that case, U.S. divisions would have to get there “as soon as possible.” Harry Hopkins, Roosevelt’s confidant and advisor, who was present on the Iowa, had the same sense of urgency: he thought that the U.S. would have to be “ready to put an airborne division into Berlin within two hours of the collapse.”

Again and again the President’s military advisors tried to impress on him the seriousness of the problems that a change in Rankin C would entail. Roosevelt remained adamant. Finally he pulled toward him a National Geographic map of Germany that lay on the table and began drawing. First he drew a line across Germany’s western frontier to Düsseldorf and south along the Rhine to Mainz. From there, with a broad stroke, he cut Germany in half along the 50th parallel roughly between Mainz on the west and Asch on the Czech border to the east. Then his pencil moved northeast to Stettin on the Oder. The Americans would have the area above the line, the British the sector below it. But as Roosevelt outlined it, the eastern boundary of the U.S. and British zones would form a rough wedge. Its apex was at Leipzig; from there it ran northeast to Stettin and southeast to Asch. The President did not say so, but this shallow triangle was obviously to be the Soviet zone. It contained less than half of the area allotted to Russia in the Rankin C proposal. Nor was Berlin located within the territory he left to Russia. It lay on the boundary line between the Soviet and U.S. zones. It was Marshall’s understanding that the President intended Berlin to be jointly occupied by U.S., British and Soviet troops.

The map showed unmistakably what the President had in mind. If the U.S. took the southern zone proposed by COSSAC in the Rankin paper, the President told his military chiefs, the “British will undercut us in every move we make.” It was quite evident, Roosevelt said, that “British political considerations are in back of the proposals.”

The discussion ended without any clear-cut decision, but Roosevelt had left no doubt in the minds of his military chiefs as to what he expected. United States occupation as envisaged by Roosevelt meant the quartering of one million troops in Europe “for at least one year, or maybe two.” His post-war plan was similar to the American approach to the war itself—an all-out effort, but with a minimum of time and involvement in European affairs. He foresaw a swift and successful thrust into the enemy’s heartland—“a railroad invasion of Germany with little or no fighting”—that would carry U.S. troops into the northwest zone and from there, into Berlin. Above all, the President of the United States was determined to have Berlin.*


Thus was offered the first concrete U.S. plan for Germany. There was just one trouble. Roosevelt, often criticized for acting as his own Secretary of State, had told no one his views except his military chiefs. They were to sit on the plan for almost four months.

After the Iowa conference, General Marshall gave the Roosevelt map—the one tangible evidence of administration thinking about the occupation of Germany—to Major General Thomas T. Handy, Chief of the War Department’s Operations Division. When General Handy returned to Washington the map was filed away in the archives of the top secret Operations Division. “To the best of my knowledge,” he was later to recall, “we never received instructions to send it to anyone at the Department of State.”

The shelving of the Roosevelt plan by his own military advisors was just one of a series of strange and costly blunders and errors of judgment that occurred among American officials in the days following the Iowa meeting. They were to have a profound influence on the future of Germany and Berlin.

On November 29, Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin met for the first time at the Teheran Conference. At this meeting the Big Three named the representatives who would sit in London on the all-important European Advisory Commission—the body charged with drafting surrender terms for Germany, defining the zones of occupation, and formulating plans for Allied administration of the country. To the EAC the British named a close friend of Anthony Eden, Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs Sir William Strang. The Russians chose a hard-headed bargainer, already known for his obstinacy—Fedor T. Gusev, Soviet Ambassador to the United Kingdom. Roosevelt appointed his envoy to the Court of St. James’s, the dedicated but shy and often inarticulate John G. Winant. Winant was never briefed on his new job, nor was he told of the President’s objectives in Germany.

However, an opportunity soon arose for the Ambassador to learn the nature of the policy he was supposed to espouse on the EAC—but the opportunity was lost. The Cairo Conference (Roosevelt, Churchill, Chiang Kai-shek) ran from November 22 to 26; the Teheran meeting (Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin) began on November 28 and continued until December 1; after Teheran, Roosevelt and Churchill met again at Cairo on December 4. That night, at a long dinner meeting with Churchill, Eden and the President’s Chief of Staff, Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy, Roosevelt once again voiced objections to the Rankin C proposals. He told the British—apparently without divulging the contents of his map or the extent of his revisions—that he felt the U.S. should have the northwest zone of Germany. Churchill and Eden strongly opposed the suggestion, but the matter was passed on to the Combined Chiefs of Staff for study. They, in turn, recommended that COSSAC, General Morgan, should consider the possibility of revising the Rankin C plan.

Winant, although part of the delegation in Cairo, was not invited to the dinner meeting and apparently was never informed about the matters discussed there. As Roosevelt set out for home, Winant flew back to London for the first meeting of the EAC, only vaguely aware of what the President and the administration really wanted.

Ironically, only a few miles away from the U. S. Embassy in London, at Norfolk House in St. James’s Square, was a man who knew only too well what President Roosevelt wanted. Lieutenant General Sir Frederick Morgan, flabbergasted by his new orders to re-examine his Rankin C plan with a view to switching the British and U.S. zones, put his hard-pressed staff to work immediately. He very quickly reached the conclusion that it was impossible—at least until after Germany was defeated. He so reported to his superiors—and “that,” he later recorded, “ended the affair” so far as he was concerned.


Meanwhile, the U.S. military chiefs, despite their protestations that they did not want to be involved in politics, were, in fact, left to decide U.S. policy in post-war Europe. To them, the zoning and occupation of Germany were strictly military matters, to be handled by the Civil Affairs Division of the War Department. As an inevitable result, the War Department found itself at odds with the State Department over Germany. The consequence was a tug of war, in the course of which any hope of achieving a coherent, unified U.S. policy on the subject was irretrievably lost.

First, it was clear to all that something had to be done to direct Ambassador Winant in his negotiations with the EAC in London. To coordinate the conflicting U.S. views, a special group called the Working Security Committee was established in Washington early in December, 1943, with representatives from the State, War and Navy departments. The War Department representatives, officers from the Civil Affairs Division, actually refused at first to sit on the committee—or for that matter, to recognize the need for a European Advisory Commission at all. The entire problem of the surrender and occupation of Germany, the Army officers maintained, was purely a military matter that would be decided at the right time, and “at a military level,” by the Combined Chiefs of Staff. Because of this farcical situation, the proceedings were held up for two weeks. Meanwhile, Winant sat in London without instructions.

At last, the military men agreed to the meetings and the committee settled down to work—but little was accomplished. Each group on the committee had to clear recommendations with its departmental superiors before anything could be cabled to Winant in London. Worse, each of the department heads could veto a suggested directive—a prerogative the War Department exercised repeatedly. The Acting Chairman of the Committee, Professor Philip E. Mosely of the State Department, who was to become Political Advisor to Ambassador Winant, commented later that the Civil Affairs officers “had been given strict instructions to agree to nothing, or almost nothing, and could only report the discussions back to their superiors. The system of negotiating at arm’s length, under rigid instructions and with the exercise of the veto, resembled the procedures of Soviet negotiators in their more intransigent moods.”

All through December, 1943, the haggling went on. In the Army’s opinion the zones of occupation probably would be determined more or less by the final position of troops when the surrender was signed. Under the circumstances, the Army representatives saw no sense in permitting Winant to negotiate any agreement about zones in the EAC.

So adamant were the military men that they even turned down a State Department plan which, though similar to the British scheme—it, too, divided Germany into three equal parts—had one vital additional element: a corridor linking Berlin, deep inside the Soviet area, with the Western zones. The author of the corridor was Professor Mosely. He fully expected the Soviets to object but he pressed for its inclusion for, as he was later to explain, “I believed, if the plan was presented first with impressive firmness, it might be taken into account when the Soviets began framing their own proposals.” Provision had to be made, he contended, “for free and direct territorial access to Berlin from the west.”

The State Department’s plan was submitted to the War Department’s Civil Affairs Division for study prior to a meeting of the full committee. For some time it was held up. Finally Mosely visited the offices of the Civil Affairs Division and sought out the colonel who was handling the matter. He asked the officer if he had received the plan. The colonel opened a bottom drawer of his desk and said, “It’s right there.” Then he leaned back in his chair, put both feet in the drawer and said, “It’s damn well going to stay there, too.” The plan was never transmitted to Winant.

In London the EAC met informally for the first time on December 15, 1943, and for Ambassador Winant it was perhaps just as well that the meeting dealt only with rules of procedure. He was still without official instructions. He had learned unofficially from British sources about the plan which had so upset Roosevelt but he did not know it as Morgan’s Rankin C: it was described to him as the Attlee Plan. He had also been informed, again unofficially (by U. S. Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy), that the President wanted the northwest zone. Winant did not expect the British to switch.* Winant’s estimate was absolutely right.

On January 14, 1944, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the newly appointed Supreme Commander, arrived in London to take over his post, and all the machinery of military planning, heretofore in the hands of General Morgan, was officially transferred to his authority. But there was one plan that even he could hardly influence at this late date. The day following Eisenhower’s arrival, at the first formal meeting of the EAC, Morgan’s Rankin C plan was presented by Sir William Strang to Ambassador Winant and the Russian envoy, Fedor Gusev. The U.S., because of the deadlock in Washington, had lost the initiative. It would never regain it. Strang was later to write that he had an advantage over his colleagues, “in that, whereas they had to telegraph for instructions to a remote and sometimes unsympathetic and uncomprehending government, I was at the center of things, usually able at short notice to have my line of action defined for me. I had a further advantage in that the Government had begun post-war planning in good time and in an orderly way.”

On February 18, at the EAC’s second formal meeting, in what was surely a record for a Soviet diplomatic decision, the inscrutable Gusev, without argument of any kind, solemnly accepted the British zonal proposals.

The British proposal gave the Soviets almost 40 per cent of Germany’s area, 36 per cent of its population and 33 per cent of its productive resources. Berlin, though divided between the Allies, lay deep inside the proposed Soviet zone, 110 miles from the western Anglo-American demarcation line. “The division proposed seemed fair as any,” Strang later recalled, “and if it perhaps erred somewhat in generosity to the Soviets, this was in line with the desire of our military authorities who had preoccupations about post-war shortages of manpower, not to take on a larger area of occupation than need be.” There were many other reasons. One of them was the fear of both British and American leaders that Russia might make a separate peace with Germany. Another, which particularly concerned the U.S. military, was the fear that Russia would not join the war against Japan. And finally, the British believed that Russia, if not forestalled, might actually demand up to 50 per cent of Germany because of her wartime sufferings.

As far as the U.S. was concerned, the die now seemed cast. Although the Big Three still had to approve the British plan, the hard fact for the U.S. was that Britain and Russia were in agreement.* In a way it was a fait accompli and there was little that Winant could do except inform his government.

The Soviets’ quick acceptance of the British plan caught Washington and the President off balance. Roosevelt hurriedly dashed off a note to the State Department. “What are the zones in the British and Russian drafts and what is the zone we are proposing?” he asked. “I must know this in order that it conform with what I decided on months ago.” State Department officials were baffled and for a very good reason: they did not know what decisions Roosevelt had made at Teheran and Cairo regarding the zones.

There was a flurry of calls between the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the State Department before the President got his information. Then, on February 21, having seen the Anglo-Russian plan, Roosevelt reacted. “I disagree with the British proposal of the demarcation of boundaries,” he bluntly stated in a formal memorandum to the State Department. He made no mention of the Soviet zone, but instead took sharp exception once again to the sector proposed for the U.S., repeating even more forcefully what he had told his military advisors on the Iowa. The President’s memo was a revelation to the State Department.

“Our principal object,” he wrote, “is not to take part in the internal problems in southern Europe but is rather to take part in eliminating Germany as a possible and probable cause of a third World War. Various points have been raised about the difficulties of transferring our troops … from a French front to a northern German front—what is called a ‘leap-frog.’ These objections are specious because no matter where British and American troops are on the day of Germany’s surrender it is physically easy for them to go anywhere—north, east or south…. All things considered, and remembering that supplies come 3,500 miles or more by sea, the United States should use the ports of Northern Germany—Hamburg and Bremen—and … the Netherlands…. Therefore, I think American policy should be to occupy northwestern Germany….

“If anything further is needed to justify this disagreement with the British … I can only add that political considerations in the United States make my decision conclusive.” Then, to make absolutely sure that his Secretary of State really understood what he wanted, Roosevelt added, underlining the words: “You might speak to me about this if the above is not wholly clear.”

In a more jocular vein, he explained his position to Churchill. “Do please don’t ask me to keep any American forces in France,” he wrote the Prime Minister. “I just cannot do it! As I suggested before, I denounce in protest the paternity of Belgium, France and Italy. You really ought to bring up and discipline your own children. In view of the fact that they may be your bulwark in future days, you should at least pay for the schooling now!”

The U.S. Chiefs of Staff apparently heard from the President, too. Almost immediately the Army officers from the Civil Affairs Division reversed their position in the Working Security Committee. A few days after the London EAC meeting, a colonel strode into Professor Mosely’s office in the State Department and spread a map before him. “That’s what the President really wants,” he said. Mosely looked at the map. He had no idea when or under what circumstances it had been prepared. He had never seen it before—nor had anyone else in the State Department. The map was the one President Roosevelt had marked aboard the Iowa.

As mysteriously as it had emerged, the Roosevelt map thereupon again dropped out of sight. Mosely expected it to be brought up at the next meeting of the Washington committee. It never was. “What happened to it, I do not know,” Mosely said years later. “The next time we met, the Civil Affairs officers produced a brand-new map, a variation which they explained was based on the President’s instructions. Who received these instructions I was never able to discover.”

The new concept was somewhat similar to the President’s Iowa map, but not quite. The U.S. zone still lay in the northwest, the British in the south, but the dividing line between them running along the 50th parallel now stopped short of the Czech border. Furthermore, the eastern boundary of the U.S. zone swung sharply due east above Leipzig to encompass even more territory. There was one other change, more important than all the others: the U.S. zone no longer included Berlin. In Roosevelt’s original version, the eastern boundary of the U.S. zone had passed through the capital; now that line swung west in a wavering semi-circle around the city. Had Roosevelt—after insisting to his military chiefs that “We should go as far as Berlin” and that “the U.S. should have Berlin”—now changed his mind? The Civil Affairs officers did not say. But they demanded that the new proposal be immediately transmitted to London, where Winant was to demand its acceptance by EAC!

It was a preposterous proposal anyway, and the State Department knew it. Under the new plan both Britain and Russia would get smaller occupation areas; it seemed hardly likely that they would accept such an arrangement after both had approved an earlier, more favorable division of territory. The Civil Affairs officers had produced the proposal without any accompanying memoranda to assist Winant in rationalizing it before the EAC; when asked to prepare such background papers they refused and said that was the State Department’s job. The proposal was finally submitted to Winant without papers of any sort. The Ambassador frantically cabled for more detailed instructions. When they were not forthcoming, he shelved the plan; it was never submitted.

That was the last effort made to introduce a U.S. plan. Roosevelt continued to hold out against accepting the British scheme until late March, 1944. At that time, George F. Kennan, Ambassador Winant’s political advisor, flew to Washington to explain to the President the problems that had arisen in the EAC because of the deadlock. Roosevelt reviewed the situation and after examining the British proposal once again, told Kennan that “considering everything, it is probably a fair decision.” He then approved the Soviet zone and the overall plan, but with one proviso: the U.S., he insisted, must have the northwestern sector. According to the account that Kennan later gave Mosely, as the meeting broke up Kennan asked the President what had happened to his own plan. Roosevelt laughed. “Oh,” he said, “that was just an idea.”

All through the momentous months of 1944, as Anglo-American troops invaded the continent, routed the Germans out of France and began driving for the Reich, the behind-the-scenes political battles went on. Roosevelt clung firmly to his demands for the northwest zone of Germany. Churchill just as tenaciously refused to budge from his position.

In April Winant verbally informed the EAC of his government’s position, but he did not immediately put the President’s desires before the delegates in writing. The Ambassador was not prepared to do so until he received instructions on one matter that he thought was crucial. In the British plan there was still no provision for Western access to Berlin.

The British foresaw no problem about access. They assumed that when hostilities ended some form of German authority would sign the surrender and administer the country under the control of the Supreme Commander. No zone would be sealed off from any other and, as Strang saw it, there would be “some free movement of Germans from zone to zone and from western zones to the capital … also freedom of movement for all proper purposes for Allied military and civilian staffs in Germany.” Furthermore, whenever the subject had been mentioned in the EAC, Russia’s Gusev had smoothly assured Strang and Winant that he foresaw no difficulties. After all, as Gusev repeatedly put it, the mere presence of U.S. and British forces in Berlin automatically carried with it rights of access. It was a matter that was taken for granted, a kind of gentlemen’s agreement.

Nevertheless, Winant thought the provision should be nailed down. He believed that “corridors” such as those originally suggested by Mosely had to be included before the Big Three formally accepted the British scheme. He intended to present such a proposal at the same time he formally placed the President’s views on the zones before EAC. He wanted guarantees of specific rail, highway, and air routes through the Soviet zone to Berlin.

In May the Ambassador flew to Washington, saw the President, and then outlined his corridor provisions to the War Department. The Civil Affairs Division flatly turned down Winant’s plan.* Its officers assured him that the question of access to Berlin was “strictly a military matter anyway” and would be handled by local commanding officers through military channels when Germany was occupied. Winant, defeated, returned to London. On June 1 he formally agreed to the British plan and the proposed Soviet sector, with the one exception that the U.S. should have the northwestern zone. The document contained no clause providing for access to Berlin.* In tentative form, at least, the Allies had decided the future of the city: when the war ended it would be a jointly occupied island almost in the center of the Soviet zone.

The power struggle now moved swiftly to its conclusion. In late July, 1944, Gusev, eager to formalize Soviet gains in the EAC, deliberately brought matters to a head. Unless the Anglo-American dispute was settled so that the Big Three could sign the agreement, he said blandly, the U.S.S.R. could see little reason for further EAC discussions. The implied threat to pull out of the Advisory Commission, thus nullifying the work of months, had the desired effect.

On both sides of the Atlantic, anxious diplomats and military advisors urged their leaders to give in. Both Churchill and Roosevelt remained adamant. Roosevelt seemed to be the least flustered by the Soviet threat. Winant was told that since the U.S. had alreadyagreed on the Soviet zone, the President could not understand why “any further discussion with the Soviets is necessary at this time.”

But Roosevelt was now being pressed from all sides. While the political squabbles went on, the great Anglo-American armies were swarming toward Germany. In the middle of August, General Eisenhower cabled the Combined Chiefs of Staff, warning that they might be “faced with the occupation of Germany sooner than had been expected.” Once again the disposition of troops as originally foreseen by Morgan in his Rankin C plan had returned to plague the planners: British troops on the left were heading for northern Germany, Americans on the right were advancing toward the south. Eisenhower now sought political guidance on the occupation zones—the first U.S. military man to do so. “All we can do,” he said, “is approach the problem on a purely military basis” and that would mean keeping the “present deployment of our armies….” Eisenhower added: “Unless we receive instructions to the contrary, we must assume this solution is acceptable … considering the situation which may confront us and the absence of basic decisions as to the zones of occupation.”

The crisis, long inevitable, had now been reached. The U.S. War and State departments, for once in complete agreement, were faced with a dilemma: no one was prepared to reopen the issue with the President again. In any case, the matter was due to be discussed at a new Roosevelt-Churchill meeting scheduled for the fall; any final decision would have to be put off till then. In the meantime, Eisenhower’s planning could not be delayed. Since the U.S. Chiefs had plans already prepared for a U.S. occupation ofeither the northwest or southern zones, on August 18 they advised Eisenhower that they were “in complete agreement” with his solution. Thus, although Roosevelt had not yet announced his decision, the assumption that the U.S. would occupy the southern zone was allowed to stand.

Roosevelt and Churchill met once again in Quebec in September, 1944. Roosevelt had changed visibly. The usually vital President looked frail and wan. The crippling polio which his renowned charm and witty informality cloaked was now evident in the painful hesitancy of his every move. But there was more than that. He had been in office since 1933—longer than any other U.S. President—and even now was seeking a fourth term. The campaigning, the diplomacy at home and abroad, the strain of the heavy burdens of the war years, were fast taking their toll. It was easy to see why his doctors, family and friends were begging him not to run again. To the British delegation at Quebec, Roosevelt appeared to be failing rapidly. Churchill’s Chief of Staff, General Sir Hastings Ismay, was shocked by his appearance. “Two years before,” he said, “the President had been the picture of health and vitality, but now he had lost so much weight that he seemed to have shrunk: his coat sagged over his broad shoulders and his collar looked several sizes too big. We knew the shadows were closing in.”

Tired, frustrated, trapped by circumstances and under pressure from his advisors and Churchill, the President finally gave in and accepted the southern zone. The British met him halfway. Among other concessions, they agreed to give the U.S. control of the great harbors and staging areas of Bremen and Bremerhaven.*

The final wartime meeting of the Big Three occurred at Yalta, in February, 1945. It was a crucial conference. Victory lay ahead, but it was clear that the bonds binding the Allied leaders were weakening as political considerations replaced military realities. The Russians were becoming more demanding and arrogant with every mile they advanced into central Europe. Churchill, long a foe of Communism, was particularly concerned about the future of countries like Poland, which the Red Army had liberated and now controlled.

Roosevelt, gaunt and much weaker than he had been at Quebec, still saw himself in the role of the Great Arbiter. In his view a peaceful post-war world could be achieved only with the cooperation of Stalin. He had once expressed his policy toward the Red leader in these terms: “I think that if I give him everything I can and ask for nothing in return, noblesse oblige, he won’t try to annex anything and will work with me for a world of democracy and peace.” The President believed that the U.S. could “get along with Russia” and that he could “manage Stalin” for, as he had once explained, “on a man-to-man basis … Uncle Joe … is get-at-able.” Although the President was growing increasingly concerned about Soviet post-war intentions, he still seemed almost determinedly optimistic.

At Yalta the last great wartime decisions were made. Among them was one giving France full partnership in the occupation of Germany. The French zone of Germany and the French sector of Berlin were carved out of the British and U.S. areas; Stalin, who was opposed to French participation, refused to contribute any part of the Russian zone. On February 11, 1945, the Big Three formally accepted their respective zones.

Thus, after sixteen months of confusion and squabbling, the U.S. and Britain at last were in accord. The occupation plan, based on a scheme originally called Rankin C but now known to the military as Operation Eclipse, contained one staggering omission: there was no provision whatever for Anglo-American access to Berlin.

It took just six weeks for Stalin to violate the Yalta agreement. Within three weeks of the conference, Russia had ousted the government of Soviet-occupied Rumania. In an ultimatum to King Michael, the Reds bluntly ordered the appointment of Petru Groza, the Rumanian Communist chief, as Prime Minister. Poland was lost, too: the promised free elections had not taken place. Contemptuously, Stalin seemed to have turned his back on the very heart of the Yalta pact, which stated that the Allied powers would assist “peoples liberated from the dominion of Nazi Germany and … former Axis satellite states … to create democratic institutions of their own choice.” But Stalin saw to it that any Yalta provisions that favored him—such as the division of Germany and Berlin—were carried out scrupulously.


Roosevelt’s desire to have Berlin for the United States was clearly evident from the lines he drew on the National Geographic map while en route to Teheran for the first Big Three Conference. Military minds prevailed and one of the plans that was substituted for F. D. R.’s was the one below—notice that Berlin is no longer included in the projected American zone. In the end, after almost two years of discussions, the final occupation zones were chosen as shown on the back endpaper map. The typed inset is a note by Major General Handy.

Roosevelt had been warned often of Stalin’s ruthless territorial ambitions by his Ambassador to Moscow, W. Averell Harriman, but now the Soviet leader’s flagrant breach of faith came to him as a staggering shock. On the afternoon of Saturday, March 24, in a small room on the top floor of the White House, Roosevelt had just finished lunch with Mrs. Anna Rosenberg, his personal representative charged with studying the problems of returning veterans, when a cable arrived from Harriman on the Polish situation. The President read the message and erupted in a violent display of anger, repeatedly pounding the arms of his wheelchair. “As he banged the chair,” Mrs. Rosenberg later recalled, “he kept repeating: ‘Averell is right! We can’t do business with Stalin! He has broken every one of the promises he made at Yalta!’”*

In London, Churchill was so disturbed by Stalin’s departure from the spirit of Yalta that he told his secretary he feared the world might consider that “Mr. Roosevelt and I have underwritten a fraudulent prospectus.” On his return from Yalta he had told the British people that “Stalin and the Soviet leaders wish to live in honorable friendship and equality with the western democracies. I feel … their word is their bond.” But on this same Saturday, March 24, the worried Prime Minister remarked to his aide: “I hardly like dismembering Germany until my doubts about Russia’s intentions have been cleared away.”

With Soviet moves becoming “as plain as a pikestaff,” Churchill felt that the Western Allies’ most potent bargaining force would be the presence of Anglo-American troops deep inside Germany, so they could meet with the Russians “as far to the east as possible.” Thus, Field Marshal Montgomery’s message announcing his intention of dashing for the Elbe and Berlin was heartening news indeed: to Churchill, the quick capture of Berlin now seemed vital. But, despite the Montgomery message, no commander along the western front had as yet been ordered to take the city. That order could come from only one man: the Supreme Commander, General Eisenhower.

*As originally conceived in 1943 there were actually three parts to Operation Rankin: Case A dealt with a situation in which the Germans might become so weak that only a “miniature Overlord” invasion might be necessary; Case B conceived a strategic German withdrawal from some parts of the occupied countries while still leaving the bulk of their forces along the European coastline to repel an invasion; and Case C dealt with a sudden German collapse either before, during or after the actual invasion itself. Cases A and B were early abandoned and received, as Morgan recalls, only the briefest consideration.

*Stalin’s proposals reached Churchill while he was crossing the Atlantic aboard the battleship H.M.S. Duke of York en route to meet with Roosevelt. The U.S. had just entered the war and Churchill had qualms about raising the matter with his powerful new ally at this time. He wired Eden: “Naturally you will not be rough with Stalin. We are bound to U.S. not to enter into secret and special pacts. To approach President Roosevelt with these proposals would be to court a blank refusal and might cause lasting trouble…. Even to raise them informally … would in my opinion be inexpedient.” The State Department was informed of Eden’s conversation with Stalin, but there is no evidence that anyone ever bothered to tell the President of the United States at the time. But by March of 1943 Roosevelt was fully apprised and according to Eden, who discussed the matter with him, the President foresaw no great difficulties with the Soviet Union. “The big question which rightly dominated Roosevelt’s mind,” said Eden, “was whether it was possible to work with Russia now and after the war.”

*The account of the events aboard the Iowa comes from handwritten minutes which were made by General George C. Marshall. The actual memorandum contains no direct quotes, only notes made as points of reference. I have directly quoted the President and others where it was clearly indicated that a sentence was being attributed to them.

*“The British have had a long economic affiliation with the northern zone,” McCloy wrote General Marshall on December 12, “and Winant tells me that the plan was brought out after consultation with their political and economic people. I do not know to what extent the President wishes to adhere to the occupation of these areas in the face of heavy English opposition…. On the whole I would favor the northern area, but I do not think it is worth the big fight.” The State Department apparently did not care one way or the other. In his own handwriting, McCloy added that Cordell Hull had called and said “he had no preference as between the northern and southern areas.”

*One of the great myths that has developed since the end of World War II is that Roosevelt was responsible for the zones of occupation. The fact is that the plan was British throughout. It was conceived by Anthony Eden, developed by the Attlee Committee (which used Morgan’s strictly military concept as the vehicle), approved by Churchill and his cabinet, and presented by Strang at the EAC. Many U.S. and British accounts refer to the zonal division as a Russian plan. This erroneous conclusion derives from the fact that when Gusev, at the second meeting of the EAC, accepted the British proposal, he also submitted a Soviet draft covering surrender terms for Germany. One section dealt with the zones: it was the British plan in toto.

*What transpired between Roosevelt and Winant at their meeting, or what the President’s position was on the Berlin transit question is not known. There is further confusion as to whether the War Department did or did not oppose Winant’s “corridor” plan. Major General John H. Hildring, Chief of the Civil Affairs Division, is reported to have told Winant that “access to Berlin should be provided for.” The version here reflects the views of the three principal U.S. historians on this period: Professor Philip Mosely (The Kremlin and World Politics); Herbert Feis (Churchill Roosevelt Stalin); and William M. Franklin, Director of the State Department’s Historical Office (Zonal Boundaries and Access to Berlin—World Politics, October 1963). “Winant,” Franklin writes, “apparently made no memoranda of these conversations…. This much, however, is clear: Winant received neither instructions nor encouragement from anyone in Washington to take the matter up with the Russians.”

*For reasons which would always remain obscure, Winant’s position on access to Berlin had changed after his return from Washington. Veteran diplomat Robert Murphy recalls that soon after joining Supreme Headquarters in September, 1944, he lunched with Winant in London and discussed the Berlin transit question. Murphy urged Winant to reopen the matter. In his memoirs, Diplomat Among Warriors, he writes: “Winant argued that our right of free access to Berlin was implicit in our right to be there. The Russians … were inclined to suspect our motives anyway and if we insisted on this technicality we would intensify their distrust.” According to Murphy, Winant was not willing to force the issue in the EAC.

*At the Conference, another controversial issue boiled up when the President and the U. S. Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Morgenthau, introduced a severe and far-reaching economic plan calling for Germany to be turned into an agricultural nation, without industry. At first Churchill subscribed to this scheme, but under pressure from his advisors later retreated from his original position. Months later Roosevelt abandoned the controversial Morgenthau plan.

*This incident comes from a private conversation with Mrs. Rosenberg (now Mrs. Paul Hoffman). Mrs. Roosevelt was also present; the two women later compared notes and agreed on the President’s exact words.

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