Part IV


16 The Muster against the Axis

17 The Clearing of North Africa

18 The End of Fascism

19 Hitler’s German Enemies

20 Great Britain at War


The Muster against the Axis

THE alliance which confronted Hitler in 1939 was a Franco-British one. When France fell Great Britain had to consider whether to carry on the fight. In retrospect it is easy to conclude that there was never any doubt about the answer to this question. It was never directly put, but there was a question all the same and there was a case for answering it in the negative. The defeat of France seemed to put Great Britain in a hopeless position, safe perhaps from military invasion but incapable of beating Germany and doubtfully capable of warding off intolerable air attacks. To the staid man of cool mind who was trained to assess a situation and then ask what was the most sensible thing to do about it – to the typical British statesman – the conclusion could well be that a government’s job was to make the best of a bad business or, in other words, come to terms with fate in the person of Hitler. Some members of the British government reasoned this way. The historical importance of Churchill is that he did not. Having assessed the situation he refused to deduce his own course from it; he determined rather to alter it. He treated the concept of peace offers from Hitler as a contradiction in terms and ignored them. Moreover his famous speech on 4 June – ‘we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing-grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender…’ – gave the lead that the country wanted. Its reception showed how far the British mood had cleared since 1938. Then the question had been whether the British should fight, but now it was whether they should fight on.

But Churchill had been Prime Minister for only a few weeks. He was not the entire master of his cabinet, still less so of the Conservative Party, and both were substantially what they had been in the last years of appeasement. Official as well as popular feeling had changed since Munich, but it had not changed out of all recognition. Two weeks after Churchill’s no-surrender speech his Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign Office, R. A. Butler, was telling the Swedish Minister that the Prime Minister’s voice was not necessarily decisive, that the war might not have to be fought to a finish and that an opportunity to make a reasonable compromise peace would not be missed in spite of the ‘diehards’ in the cabinet. It is unlikely that Butler, a junior minister, was acting on his own. The Foreign Secretary, Halifax, himself reinforced this appraisal by telling the same Minister that commonsense would prevail over bravado. (The Swedish government thereupon gave in to German pressure and allowed German soldiers going home on leave from Norway to travel through Sweden.) Another member of the old team, Hoare, who had wavered in the late thirties into toying with the idea of a Russian alliance and had then been relegated to the right wing as Ambassador in Madrid, was being similarly propitiatory. It was as a result of consorting too exclusively with people of this kind that the United States Ambassador in London, Joseph P. Kennedy, reported that Great Britain was finished – a judgement at variance not only with the facts but also with that of the Russian Ambassador, Ivan Maisky, who was assuring Stalin that the British would fight on despite the fall of France. (A year later Maisky found an ingenious solution to the reverse problem of persuading the British that the Russians would fight on and win in spite of Hitler’s first victories in the USSR: he persuaded a British publishing firm to issue a cheap edition of Tolstoy’s War and Peace.)

The question of a negotiated peace had been broached in the British Cabinet before the French capitulation, when some Ministers proposed invoking once more the good offices of Mussolini. Churchill was inflexibly hostile to any such move, even when faced with a threat of resignation by Halifax who argued that this was no time for obduracy. Yet Churchill’s stance was not simply emotional bravado. Hitler was not likely to want to talk peace with the fall of France within his grasp, and Mussolini was even less likely to court a snub by making an inopportune and unwelcome approach to the lord of the continent.

Hints of peace in the summer of 1940 could have had two differing purposes. The more obvious purpose was to indicate that Great Britain was prepared to follow France in the acknowledgement of defeat: Lloyd George, who was known to be pessimistic about any other course, might play the role of Pétain and Churchill would leave the stage like Reynaud. Alternatively, defeatist talk might be a mere manoeuvre to gain time while British forces were evacuated from the continent. Although Churchill was anxious to get Lloyd George to join his government, there is no evidence that Churchill believed that the war should no longer be carried on, and his repeated overtures to Lloyd George are as consonant with a wish to muffle his old comrade-in-arms as to be supplanted by him. In the event there was no Pétainist peace. Butler and Halifax both left the Foreign Office before the end of the year and Churchill, more dogged and more passionate than the common run of politicians, became greatly more assured in his control of the government and his identification with the popular mood. But wars are not won by spirit alone. The British determination embodied in Churchill could hardly have prevailed against Hitler but for Great Britain’s insular geography and its imperial past. As an island state Great Britain could parry and gain time. But this was only a negative advantage. It might enable Great Britain to get left out of Europe’s catastrophic affairs but it could not directly affect them. As an island Great Britain was an anti-German perch, but there was in 1940 nobody to perch on it, for the Americans were unlikely to join a war which had dwindled to a formal state of belligerence and no more. But Great Britain was also an empire and it was the combination of British Empire and British Isles which kept the war alive: the American armies first joined this war not in Europe but in Africa.

Great Britain’s imperial past had two major consequences. First, it provided a base in the Middle East to serve as an alternative point for accumulating forces and launching them against the European continent and, secondly, it provided the men and materials which India, the Dominions and the colonies contributed to the war. When Great Britain declared war in 1939 the Dominions did so too – in the case of South Africa by a vote of eighty to sixty-seven in Parliament, in the other cases wholeheartedly. This response was not the automatic reaction which it had been in 1914 but a freely formed resolve based on the close links of kinship and imperial solidarity and on revulsion against Nazi enormities. In India the Viceroy, acting with complete constitutional propriety but almost equally complete obtuseness, declared war without consulting any Indian leader. In spite of this tactless insensitivity Indians fought once more in Europe’s wars at Great Britain’s behest – to such good measure that Wavell felt bound to complain to Churchill in 1942 that the Indian army had the equivalent of seven divisions in the Middle East (more than it had in India) at a time when the country was dangerously threatened by the Japanese. Throughout the war there was never any shortage of volunteers for the Indian armed services. The Indian princes also pledged all their resources to the British cause and the independent kingdom of Nepal, the home of the Gurkhas, maintained its distinctive fighting reputation.

By mid-1941 the British Chiefs of Staff were making plans for the following year on the basis that they would be able to deploy about sixty divisions, of which slightly over one third would come from India and the Dominions (India eight, Australia five and a third, Canada four and a third, South Africa two, New Zealand one). The bulk of the armour, the equivalent of twelve divisions out of fifteen, would be British, but otherwise the imperial contribution was striking. Some Canadian units reached Great Britain as early as 1939 and took part in the battle for France next year; Australia and New Zealand agreed in January 1940 to the dispatch of a division each to the Middle East. Similar contributions were made to naval and air forces. The Commonwealth Air Training Scheme, established by the British, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand governments, trained tens of thousands of pilots, radio operators, gunners and observers annually at elementary and advanced schools in the various countries, and South Africa and Rhodesia set up schemes of their own, the latter with British instructors and aircraft. All this help was given with little restriction. South Africa did not allow service outside the African continent and restricted service outside the Union itself to volunteers: they served in North and East Africa. All the Dominion governments tried, as they were bound to do, to secure some say in broad strategic decisions and the right to be consulted on operational decisions of special moment to themselves. Australia and New Zealand complained about the dispatch of their units to Greece without adequate consultation, Canada showed concern about plans to commit Canadians to an assault on Trondhjem without express Canadian consent. But in general the Commonwealth commitment was unfettered as well as generous.

Thus, whether he fully realized it or not, Hitler was already in 1940 threatened from many quarters and by many peoples. The focus for this threat was the Middle East and it is conceivable that the threat to Hitler would not have materialized if Mussolini had not stirred it up by urging Graziani to attack in the desert and by invading Greece towards the end of 1940. By doing these things Mussolini opened a second front within range of British imperial power. He unshackled the British strategic initiative which had been neutralized when Great Britain lost in France its only fighting ally.

Churchill’s problem after the defeat of France was how and with whom to get back to the continent. There were two possible ways of doing this. The one was to bring France back into the fight and the other was to make the journey back to within striking distance of Germany by way of the Balkans. A view of Europe from the south-east had been familiar to Englishmen since Egypt became to all intents and purposes a part of the British Empire and the Mediterranean, if not a British lake, at least a British highway signposted by Gibraltar, Malta, Alexandria and Suez.

Until the spring of 1941 the Balkans were debatable ground. Churchill built up British forces across the water in Egypt. But then Hitler conquered south-east Europe too, and the British in Egypt, their forces (mostly Australians and New Zealanders) thrown out of Greece and Crete, had to give up thinking of engaging the Germans anywhere on the continent; they were confined to the subsidiary problems of Libya and the Horn of Africa. At this point Hitler himself again reopened the war in Europe and created for the German army an enemy who was to engage it until it was destroyed. His attack on the USSR in June 1941 transformed the war by carrying the bulk of Germany’s ground forces to the east and out of occupied Europe, thereby making Resistance a serious practical possibility and opening for the British the prospect of returning to the continent either by assault on its weakened western defences or through ports captured by a French Resistance movement. Six months later Hitler’s declaration of war against the United States ensured that this re-entry would be immensely massive. Hitler had dissolved the Anglo-French alliance only to create a convergence of British, Indian, Dominion, Russian and American forces against him. From 1942 onwards, the muster of these diverse enemies, joined by contingents from Hitler’s victims, were on their several ways into Germany. But these had to be concerted.

The principal allies – the United States, the USSR and Great Britain – were united in their primary war aim but often divided about how to achieve it. Between the Americans and the British there was an accumulation of trust and fellowship which produced, for all its occasional rubs, an exceptionally efficient and harmonious alliance, but between them and the Russians there stood a generation of mistrust, thousands of miles and ineradicable divergences on post-war aims. There was also much mutual ignorance about attitudes and intentions, notably on post-war issues over which there was little meeting of minds, if only because – very often – minds were not yet made up.

The Grand Alliance which defeated Germany was fashioned by circumstances rather than by men. In the thirties the western European democracies had shunned the USSR because in a number of ways their rulers preferred Hitler to communism: either the USSR was weak, in which case it was no use as an ally, or it was strong, in which case it might dominate central Europe – an eventuality to be avoided at almost any cost. Stalin had no more liking for them than they for him and, concerned about how to keep out of trouble for as long as possible, he too had opted for Hitler in 1939: the victor in the ensuing war between Germany and the west would confront the USSR and probably be happy to attack it. But when in 1941, with that war still undecided, Germany invaded the USSR, an alliance between the west and the USSR became a natural sequel which imposed itself, or interposed itself, on the current of history. Although there was some surprise at the immediacy and wholeheartedness of Churchill’s and Roosevelt’s response, there was nothing surprising about the event itself. Hitler’s decision to attack the USSR while he was still at war with Great Britain meant that an east-west alliance against him would precede the east-west conflict which he in effect postponed to 1945.

So long as the war lasted the maintenance of this anti-German alliance was a cardinal aim of the leaders on both sides of Germany. The war on two fronts was the war which Hitler could not win. A separate peace in west or east spelt danger for the other half of the alliance. For Great Britain the German attack on the USSR, because it came before Churchill had achieved his aim of seeing the Americans join the fighting, was an immense relief in a year of critical strain, and even after Hitler’s declaration of war against the United States, six months after Barbarossa was launched, the maintenance of the Russian capacity and will to fight was essential to a western victory. Not until 1943 at the earliest were the German armies so mauled by the Russians that the western allies might hope to put their own great armies onto the continent without intolerable losses. Yet these forces must make their invasion not long after 1943 in order to be certain that new German weapons, such as chemical weapons, would not render it impossible. As late as the autumn of 1944 they were sharply reminded in the Ardennes that the Germans, even in a war on two fronts which they were clearly losing, remained dangerous foes.

On the Russian side Stalin, by his appeals for material aid and for the reopening of a front in France, proved his urgent fear of defeat in single combat with the Germans. He asked for British divisions to be sent to fight on Russian soil and for a no-separate-peace agreement, which was concluded between Molotov and the British Ambassador (Cripps) in October. His fears were allayed by the survival of Moscow at the end of 1941 and still more by the endurance of Stalingrad at the end of 1942 and were all but completely removed by the Russian victories in the summer of 1943. But the preservation of ‘anti-fascist solidarity’ remained a cardinal principle of Stalin’s war policy, even to the extent of restraining communists like Tito and Togliatti, lecturing the one on the need to conciliate and collaborate with anti-fascists of all kinds and telling the other to mute anti-monarchism until the war was over. It is arguable that, if forced to a choice, Stalin might have put the control over eastern Europe above the preservation of the alliance once the USSR’s moment of vital danger had passed, and that he never regarded eastern Europe as negotiable during the last two years of war; but he was never called upon to make that choice, an escape for which he could claim some personal credit since it was partly due to his refusal to confabulate with Roosevelt and Churchill until the end of 1943.

But although the overriding needs of the partners ensured its maintenance, the alliance was neither deep nor harmonious. Evidence to the contrary is to be found only in communiqués, notoriously misleading, and in descriptions of banquet scenes, traditionally unbuttoned. The persistent reality was a background of mistrustful manoeuvre and speculation. Although anti-Germanism was strong enough to hold the alliance together, it was – apart from a certain mutual martial admiration – just about the allies’ only bond. Churchill and Stalin might admire as well as need one another but Stalin could remember the Churchill who had advocated the overthrow of the new Bolshevik régime not only by backing Russian Whites and enlisting British volunteers but also by using German troops, while Churchill could remember that one of the first acts of the Bolshevik government had been to desert the allied cause and make a separate peace with Germany. Difficulties appeared at once and were thereafter never absent. Churchill’s declaration of sympathy and solidarity, made within hours of Hitler’s attack, was followed by negotiations for an Anglo-Russian treaty which laid bare one of the problems which was never resolved until the Russians were strong enough completely to override their allies’ views – the problem of the Soviet Union’s European frontiers. What Stalin had got in his treaty with Hitler in 1939 he wanted his new allies to recognize and endorse – in the Baltic, Poland and the Balkans.

Churchill’s general inclination was to mollify Stalin without entering into specific undertakings governing the shape of post-war Europe; in particular he could not concede Stalin’s claims against Poland without flagrantly violating the Anglo-Polish treaty of 1939 and forgetting that Great Britain had gone to war in 1939 on behalf of Poland and was still host to a Polish government in exile. If Bessarabia presented no such problem (Rumania had joined in the attack on the USSR) the extinction of the three Baltic states raised political and moral principles which Great Britain did not care to flout in a formal diplomatic document.

In August 1941, on a battleship off the coast of Newfoundland, Roosevelt and Churchill had signed the document which became known as the Atlantic Charter and which was intended as a declaration of general war aims. For Roosevelt the Atlantic Charter was the equivalent of Wilson’s Fourteen Points, a working paper setting out the basis on which a new and fairer world would be constructed. For Churchill it was less a document than a call or proclamation to stir the world. For Americans it was the equivalent of the Constitution, for the British of the Magna Carta – the one a document with continuing practical effects, the other a piece of secular religion. By the Atlantic Charter Roosevelt and Churchill renounced territorial aggrandizement, asserted the right of all peoples to choose how they should be governed, condemned territorial changes contrary to the wishes of the inhabitants of the territory and looked forward to an equitable distribution of raw materials, fair trading practices, freedom of the seas, disarmament and an international security system. They hoped to get Stalin to endorse this declaration but they got no further than a vague statement of approval from the Russian Ambassador in London, Ivan Maisky. At the end of 1941 Eden, on a mission to Moscow, discovered that Stalin’s post-war aims included not only the recognition of the fruits of his pact with Hitler, but also fragments of Germany and the transfer to Turkey of the Dodecanese (which Great Britain’s other ally, Greece, was expecting to be given as soon as Italy was defeated). But Stalin was not at this stage in a position to insist. Eden became privately convinced that it would be politic to concede Stalin’s claims in the Baltic, but Churchill (and the Conservative Party) were not so minded, unmoved by Eden’s arguments that when the war ended Stalin would take the republics anyway. The Anglo-Russian treaty, eventually concluded in May 1942, contained no undertakings about post-war frontiers and Stalin let the matter rest until the Teheran conference in November 1943, by which time his military position had greatly changed.

As important as Poland and more urgent was the question of a second front. Stalin pressed for one in July 1941 and again in September. Churchill’s desire to help was genuine but he and many of his advisers were for a time sceptical about the value of the new ally which looked like being defeated and bundled out of the war almost as easily as France had been – in which event aid would have been wasted and Great Britain, once more alone, that much worse off. Churchill’s spirit responded to the Russian needs but his strategic senses were more alert to the battles in the Middle East, the defence of the British Empire and the fear of a junction between the Germans and the Japanese. He had to count the cost of promises very carefully. Great Britain was a fighting ally of the USSR for six months before the United States too came into the war and the brunt of military aid to the USSR and the delivery of war material by the Arctic route must fall on Great Britain.

Roosevelt was less cautious. When, after the American entry into the war, Molotov visited London and Washington in the hope of getting more and quicker western aid, Roosevelt allowed himself to be less guarded than Churchill and half-promised a second front that year (1942). Churchill, who envisaged raids on the French coast in 1942 and a major invasion in 1943 at the earliest, felt obliged to record in writing his opposition to Roosevelt’s imprudent engagement, and from this time the Russians regarded Great Britain as a drag on more purposeful and generous American policies. In April 1942 the American planners produced, and the Chiefs of Staff adopted, proposals for an invasion of France by a million American troops in the spring of 1943 and for a smaller attack in the autumn of 1942 if either the Russians or the Germans showed signs of collapsing. The British did not object to this programme although they were convinced that any invasion in 1942 was out of the question. Churchill did not believe that so huge an American force could be assembled in England in time for a major invasion in 1943, especially if the war in the Atlantic had not first been won. Great Britain moreover was committed to the North African campaign, which could not on the most favourable estimates be completed in time to permit the opening of a new campaign thousands of miles away before the end of 1942; it was in fearful difficulties in the Far East, exemplified by the fall of Singapore and the Australian government’s insistence on recalling troops from abroad for the defence of their homeland; and Churchill and his advisers were ceaselessly aware of their limited resources in men and materials.

In Great Britain Churchill’s views prevailed, if not without question, yet without serious challenge. On the issue of the second front Lord Beaverbrook alone raised a voice of eminence and influence in favour of an immediate landing in France. Early in 1942 Beaverbrook had resigned from the government, which he believed to be crumbling, and had gone to the United States where he made a public appeal for the opening of a second front, recklessly if necessary. On his return to London he established an organization to campaign for a second front and lent himself for a while to anti-Churchill manoeuvres, but these came to nothing in spite of a certain amount of intrigue and gossip on the political fringes in which Beaverbrook’s name was freely used. Beaverbrook then rallied to his old and loyal friend and found himself back in the government before the year was out.

Despite the loss of Singapore in February and Tobruk in June, Churchill’s position was never threatened as Asquith had been threatened by the reverses of 1916. Public opinion saw no alternative to Churchill and wished for none. The Conservative Party, as a whole, having made Churchill its leader in 1940, knew that it could not prosper without him, while the Labour Party never aspired to the leading place. Churchill was master of his cabinet and of Parliament as neither Asquith nor Lloyd George (the latter dependent in 1917–18 on the votes of a party not his own) had ever been. He was also in undoubted control of his service chiefs whom he could dismiss if he chose – again unlike Lloyd George, who distrusted Haig but dared not dismiss him. As Minister of Defence and chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee Churchill was a civilian warlord who had no cause to fear military intrigues against him; no British general in the Second World War complained to the king about civilian incompetence and interference as Haig did in the first war; in his relations with the military Churchill had an authority which no British Prime Minister – and, in France, only Clemenceau – had ever had before. Churchill’s conduct of the war remained therefore remarkably uninhibited until it was curtailed by Great Britain’s declining share in the total allied war effort. But this did not happen until there were more Americans than British under arms in the European theatre and up to 1943 it was still difficult to ship American forces to Europe owing to U-boats, shortage of transports and the competing claims of the war in the Pacific. At the end of 1942 there were only 170,000 American troops in Europe (and 140,000 in North Africa) out of 500,000 planned earlier in the year.

Roosevelt, as Commander-in-Chief as well as President, was confronted throughout the war with two series of strategic problems: the claims of the Pacific theatre against the European, and the alternative uses to which American power could be put within a theatre. Until Munich the United States had no plans for fighting Germany. It had plans of a vague and general kind for a war against Japan. Munich stimulated thinking about new problems and new theatres and in April 1939 the Chiefs of Staff, faced with the possibility of a war on two fronts, provisionally recommended that Europe should come first. At the end of 1940, with war palpably nearer, the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Harold R. Stark, recommended a policy of attack in the Atlantic and defence in the Pacific, which he was prepared to subordinate to the war against Germany and the Anglo-American alliance. This policy had been affirmed at a joint Anglo-American staff conference in March 1941 which hoped that war in the Pacific might be avoided but recommended that, if it came, it be subordinated to the war in Europe; but there were always dissentients on the American side. In his State of the Union address to Congress at the beginning of 1942 Roosevelt said that Hitler came first. By this time the United States was actively involved in hostilities in the Atlantic, and Hitler’s declaration of war three days after Pearl Harbor had removed any need to reconsider, in the light of Pearl Harbor, the priorities which had governed American planning for the past few years: Hitler made the Americans’ war a war on two fronts from its first week.

But although American priorities were never reversed, they were inevitably questioned from time to time. At the beginning of 1942 American strategy in the Pacific was largely dictated by the requirements of the defensive, but the United States recovered from the blow at Pearl Harbor with astonishing rapidity and was able after the naval victories of the Coral Sea and Midway in May and June to go over to the offensive sooner than had been expected. This turn of fortune lent strength to the pleas of the Pacific commanders, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz and General Douglas MacArthur, who were authorized to take the offensive and who therefore succeeded in altering to some extent the division of forces between the theatres. At the end of 1942 there were more Americans in the Pacific than in Europe.

In the European theatre Churchill dominated the strategic debate on the western side during 1942. Although he did not convince the American, or British, Chiefs of Staff he won a wavering Roosevelt over to his plan for a major Anglo-American landing in North-west Africa (Torch) which would join forces with the British army in the Western Desert, bring the North African campaign to a close and make the Mediterranean safe for the allies. Roosevelt was the more easily won over because he saw action in North Africa in 1942 as a partial redemption of the half-promise which he had given to Molotov of action in France in 1942, but to Stalin a second front in Africa was not the second front he wanted and in August Churchill set out for Moscow for his first meeting with Stalin in order to explain and justify this strategy. The meeting was boisterous but not disastrous and it formed Stalin’s view of Churchill: he liked the man but not his plans. How far the two leaders ever understood one another is debatable, but so long as their common and overriding anti-German aim subsisted they preserved a mutual respect and did business with one another.

When the Grand Alliance came into being in 1941 the war in Africa was for the British, the senior combatants, nearly the whole of the war, but both the Americans and the Russians were dubious about it and regarded it as a sideshow. The Americans regarded battles in the eastern Mediterranean as battles to salvage the British Empire, battles in the western Mediterranean as battles to salvage the French Empire; and they had not entered the war to save or restore empires. The Americans, and the Russians too, thought of battles as much bigger affairs than anything that had occurred in Africa and could conceive of no vitally significant operation except the biggest possible battle in Europe at the earliest possible moment. Again, the Americans and Russians looked to a victory to be achieved preponderantly by ground forces, whereas Churchill clung to the belief in victory by air bombardments. (If he had been right, Great Britain would not have become so junior a partner in the Anglo-American effort.) In the final analysis Churchill and the British Chiefs of Staff did not question the paramount importance of an invasion of France and they agreed that other operations had to be justified by their contribution to the re-opening of a western front. Where they disagreed was in their assessment of the relevance of operations in the Mediterranean to this overriding aim. They were also more impressed than the Russians by the difficulties of landing in France (they seem to have given up the notion that the French Resistance would capture French harbours for them) and their hesitations on this score were increased in August 1942 by the costliness of the experimental raid on Dieppe.

In this atmosphere every British argument in favour of exploiting success in Africa by expanding the campaign in the Mediterranean was interpreted by the Americans as an attempt to turn this campaign into an alternative way of defeating the Germans without the necessity for a frontal assault in the west, and American suspiciousness was increased by the realization that Torch would rule out an invasion of France not only in 1942 but in 1943 too. On the American side there was a feeling of having been tricked by crafty British with ulterior motives. Churchill’s strategic agility – his addiction to a strategy of ingenious pinpricks at spots as remote from a decisive theatre as northern Norway or Rhodes, which were the products of his lively sense of opportunity and often disconcerted his own advisers as much as his allies – was interpreted, wrongly, as unwillingness to face up to the serious business and daunting casualties of a landing in France.

Torch developed into an open-ended temptation. While the fighting in North-west Africa was still going on Roosevelt and Churchill met in January 1943 at Casablanca. They accepted the premise that for the time being their primary weapon against Germany was not direct invasion but air bombardment, and they sanctioned an invasion of Sicily as soon as possible after the defeat of the Germans and Italians in Africa, which was not completed until May. In that month they met again in Washington and decided to do something more in the western Mediterranean after taking Sicily, but what this was to be – an attack on Sardinia and Corsica or in Calabria or somewhere else – was left undecided and was still undecided when Sicily was invaded in July. This invasion, which caused the fall of Mussolini, led the allies on to an invasion of the Italian mainland but did not deliver Italy into their hands and effectively removed all prospect of a landing in France (Overlord) before 1944.

For twelve months therefore – from the end in Tunisia to Overlord – the three allies went their separate and barely coordinated ways towards Germany. The Russians won in July 1943 the battles in the Kursk salient which, even more than Stalingrad, spelt the end of Hitler’s bid to subjugate the USSR. The western allies conquered Sicily in the same month, and then, landing at Salerno, set out in September for Rome, which, however, they did not reach for nine months because Hitler, after some hesitation, reinforced his armies in Italy and built them up by the end of the year to twenty-five divisions by withdrawals from both the Russian and western fronts. These latter operations involved the western allies in further disputes which were not without interest to Stalin both for their bearing on Overlord and their wider political import.

In the year before Overlord the western allies had in mind three principal operations. They could not, however, attempt all three because all of them required landing craft and there were not enough landing craft to go round. The first of the three possibilities was a second landing on the Italian coast to supplement the landing at Salerno and expedite the capture of Rome; this was effected in January 1944 at Anzio. The second was a landing in the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal intended to lead to the recovery of Sumatra and Malaya; this was promised to Chiang Kai-shek by Roosevelt in Cairo in December 1943 but subsequently cancelled. The reason for the cancellation was the third operation – a landing in the Dodecanese. This was one of Churchill’s pet plans and his strategic objective was the same as that of the Italian campaign: to win air bases (in the Aegean case, for attacks on the Rumanian oilfields) and to create a threat which would force Hitler either to evacuate the Balkans or reinforce them at the expense of more vital fronts (Hitler in fact built up his forces in south-eastern Europe to twenty divisions). Churchill was also keen to bring Turkey into the war. He argued that the Anzio and Dodecanese operations could be effected with the landing craft which were later to be used in support of Overlord by an invasion of southern France (Anvil), but that landing craft sent to the Indian Ocean could not be brought back to the Mediterranean in time. This argument won the day. (But the Dodecanese venture was a failure. Designed to coincide with the surrender of Italy, it was first postponed and then undertaken belatedly and with greatly reduced forces. An attempt to get the Italian garrison on Rhodes to change sides failed and the Germans put in troops of their own. The British nevertheless sent small detachments to take Kos, Leros, Samos and other nearby points. They were driven out of Kos after twenty days and out of Leros a month later and abandoned their remaining toeholds. The Germans made 900 allied and 3,000 Italian prisoners on Kos and shot Italian officers who had sided with the British. No attack was made on Rhodes. Turkey stayed neutral until the last week of February 1945.)

A successful British return to Greece, like the plan later proposed for an advance from Italy over the Brenner or through the Ljubljana Gap to Vienna, could have had political implications for the balance of power in central Europe after the war. But it does not follow that in 1943 Churchill sponsored his Dodecanese adventure for political reasons. It has been assumed on too little evidence that Churchill was attracted to the Dodecanese by his memories of the First World War when he was deeply enmeshed in the Gallipoli campaign and by a desire to establish a military presence in eastern Europe which would limit Stalin’s post-war hegemony, but Churchill’s concern about the position of the Russians in Europe does not seem to have been aroused before 1944 – and then chiefly by events in Poland – nor does he seem to have imagined that a minor British operation in the Balkans was the right way to limit Russian power. His attempt to regain a foothold in the Aegean was an aspect of exploiting the collapse of Italian Fascism by reaching out a hand to the Greek and Yugoslav partisans who had captured his imagination as doughty allies in the common cause. It was opposed by the Americans and the Russians as an unnecessary and perhaps harmful distraction from the engaging of the German armies in the west.


Nevertheless Churchill’s strategies did acquire a political element which became increasingly evident as the war went on. He was proud of British achievements in Africa and the Mediterranean, aware that the victories to come in western Europe would be more American than British, subconsciously anxious to make the most of what was, in Italy, still at least as much a British as an American show. Like every great patriot he was a bit of a chauvinist. He was also a European, whereas Roosevelt, like Woodrow Wilson before him, was not a European and did not have the European’s sensitivity to the balance of power in Europe. Churchill, largely because of his special interest in history, had this sensitivity to an unusual degree. In the last year of the war the coming domination of Europe by the Russians worried him quite apart from the fact that the government of the USSR was a communist autocracy, and he was also worried by his inability to get Roosevelt worried too. Roosevelt, again like Wilson, looked askance at power political issues and attached more importance to the creation of a new world organization which would impose universal harmony upon particular disharmonies. For this purpose Russo-American cordiality was all important and Roosevelt seized on the chance of wartime cooperation as a means to establishing a more enduring entente. Everybody else’s salvation would flow from such an entente – a view of international order which died with Roosevelt and the Cold War but revived with mutual nuclear deterrence, the thaw of the 1960s and the fear of China to take the place of fear of Germany. But Churchill, like Clemenceau vis-à-vis Wilson in 1919, was more sceptical. In the heat of war Stalin might be pictured as the benevolent Uncle Joe projected by wartime emotions; with the approach of peace he could be looked at more coldly.

The first meeting of the three leaders of the Grand Alliance did not take place until the Russian victory in the east had been assured and the preponderance of American over British might in the west had been made manifest. There were only two such meetings during the war in Europe: the first, which lasted four days, at Teheran in November 1943 and a second, which lasted eight days, at Yalta in February 1945.

Before Teheran Roosevelt and Churchill had had a series of meetings as well as a continuous and intimate correspondence. Churchill had met Stalin once, and Roosevelt and Stalin had met not at all. During 1943 distrust within the alliance had become serious. In the United States the view that Stalin was no better than Hitler was being freely expressed in the press and elsewhere; it was reinforced by the revelation in April 1943 of the Katyn massacre in Poland and by the constitution in Moscow in July of a Free German Committee which was taken as evidence of Russian flirting with Germany. From Stockholm came reports of Russian feelers, designed either to end the war in the east by a separate peace or to scare the western allies into thinking that Stalin was about to do so. The western allies feared that Stalin might be content to push the Germans back into Germany and then leave the Nazi régime intact. On his side Stalin, besides being embarrassed and angered by the publicity given to Katyn, feared that the Americans might divert most of their strength to the Pacific and resented, unreasonably, the suspension of the Arctic convoys for three months after disasters suffered in June 1942. Above all Stalin was trying to hold his allies to their promises to open a second front in 1943. By a second front he meant a landing in strength on the continent which would draw off great numbers of German divisions from the east. In the crisis of 1941 he had specified thirty to forty divisions. He accepted as adequate neither the western air offensive which engaged the best of the Luftwaffe’s aircraft and aircrews (to the considerable advantage of the Russian armies) nor the operations in the Mediterranean which tied down a number of German divisions in the Balkans and diverted twenty-five to Italy. Although Churchill had given no promise of a cross-Channel invasion in 1943 he seems to have felt that, when in Moscow in August 1942, he had given Stalin grounds for expecting one; and Roosevelt had been much more explicit. Both western leaders had a feeling of unease about postponing the big assault to 1944.

Roosevelt and Churchill liked meeting for the sake of meeting. They believed in the value of man-to-man talks of a general nature, informal and on an assumption of shared aims and proved comradeship. Such meetings must, they felt, generate understanding and trust, eliminate the rubs in the alliance and so accelerate victory and lay a sure basis for post-war harmony. They envisaged not so much a diplomatic conference as a council of war. Stalin took a more professional view of summit meetings. He wanted a regular conference or nothing. He had exercised power and responsibility unremittingly for twenty years, during which he had got his way by always doing his homework more thoroughly than his adversaries, by never taking decisions in anybody’s time but his own, by knowing how far to go at any given moment (unlike Hitler but not unlike Bismarck) – in short by arming an unusually clear mind and unusually ruthless character with the most rigorous professional techniques of the statesman and negotiator. Whereas Roosevelt and Churchill looked to their subordinates to supply these technical assets as required, Stalin embodied them in himself. He had neither the gifts nor the weaknesses of the amateur. He may have been a repulsive man but he was an exceptionally gifted and experienced master of his craft.

Roosevelt and Churchill, desiring a meeting on general grounds, thought that the sooner it took place the better. They pressed for it on and off throughout 1943. Stalin on the other hand had no use for a conference which was unlikely to further specific or particular objectives and he therefore blew hot and cold, favouring a conference when his fortunes and his bargaining power were in the ascendant, putting it off when they waned or when he was vexed. Early in 1943 he seemed willing to meet his associates. By this time the three great crises of the war, from the Russian point of view, were behind him: Moscow had been saved in 1941, Japan had not attacked when Germany did, Stalingrad had not fallen. Yet he still prevaricated, probably on account of the Anglo-American conference of May which resolved on further operations against Italy, and it was not until after the spectacular Russian victories on his central front in the summer which finally eliminated all prospect of a German victory over the USSR that he again reversed his position and agreed to a meeting in Teheran at the end of the year. The second front was no longer a condition of Russian survival. Rather the failure to open a second front could be used as a lever politically against the western allies. And the Polish problem had also been transformed by the certainty that Russian armies would soon be on Polish soil once more.

During 1943 Stalin broke with the provisional Polish government which had its headquarters in London. Relations with this government had been established after Hitler invaded the USSR by an agreement signed in London by General Wladislaw Sikorski, the head of the government, and Ivan Maisky; the agreement provided for an ‘amnesty’ for all Poles in the USSR and the raising of a Polish army on Russian soil. This was the season of Stalin’s direst need. He was prepared not only to see American troops in the USSR but a Polish army too and General Anders, captured in the war of 1939, was disinterred from the Lubianka prison in Moscow to command it. The Poles in the USSR, however, were not enthusiastic about fighting alongside their hereditary and recent Russian enemies. Trouble soon came. The Russians accused the Poles of breaking the Sikorski-Maisky agreement by not committing their divisions to the front as quickly as they were formed. The Poles were probably reluctant to use up their fighting power in the defence of the USSR against the Germans, and as the pressure on the Russians eased, Stalin’s priorities changed and he became more wary about a scheme which would take a Polish army, commanded by anti-Russian and anti-communist officers, into territories which he had recently seized from Poland and intended to keep.

Eventually, on Churchill’s suggestion and with Stalin’s consent, Anders’s divisions left for Italy via Iran, thus incidentally ensuring that the liberation of Poland from the Germans would be accomplished by the Russians alone. Churchill, who established a personal friendship with Sikorski, hoped to be able to resolve the differences between his Polish and Russian allies by persuading Sikorski, who was in turn to persuade his compatriots, to cede territory in eastern Poland to the USSR in return for equivalent territory in the west to be taken from Germany: Poland was to be shifted westward. The Poles did not want to be shifted; they wanted the cancellation of the Russo-German deal of 1939 and the restoration of Poland’s 1939 frontiers. But Stalin was determined not to give up what he had won before the German and Russian invasions of 1939, and talked of a new ‘ethnic’ Poland to the west of the Russo-German partition line. He was prepared to accept the somewhat less favourable ‘Curzon Line’ invented in 1920 by Lord Curzon and opportunely dug out by Eden, but he did not intend that the new Poland should have its old government, and in 1943 events enabled him to begin the process of displacing it.

During the short war of 1939 a great many Polish officers disappeared. They were believed to be in Russian captivity but they failed to reappear after the amnesty proclaimed in accordance with the Sikorski-Maisky agreement of 1941. They were in fact dead and in April 1943 thousands of bodies were found in pits in the forest of Katyn. They had been murdered. The temper of the times inclined western opinion to the belief that they had been murdered by the Germans and when Goebbels proclaimed that they had been murdered by the Russians few people in the west believed him. Yet it gradually became obvious that this was the case and that a massacre of some 10–14,000 prisoners had been perpetrated. The Polish government in London asked for an investigation by the Red Cross, whereupon Stalin seized the occasion to sever relations. A few months later, in September 1943, the death of Sikorski in an aircraft accident at Gibraltar removed from the scene the one Polish leader who, because he was a man of singular ability and vision, enjoyed the friendship of Churchill and had some personal credit with Stalin, might have been able to repair the breach between Moscow and the London Poles and implement Churchill’s policy of making territorial but not political concessions to the USSR.

After Sikorski’s death Churchill was virtually without any cards to play against Stalin on the Polish question. Sikorski’s successor as head of the government in exile, Stanislaw Mikolajczyk, saw the need for an understanding with the Russians but he lacked Sikorski’s authority and both his Minister of War, General Kasimierz Sosnkowski, and General Tadeusz Bor-Komarowski who succeeded to the command of the Polish Home Army (AK) when its first commander fell into German hands, were strongly anti-Russian. (They were also anti-semitic.) But Stalin, following his military successes of the summer, was about to take possession of the contested field, having turned Katyn to good account by divesting himself of the commitments in the Sikorski-Maisky agreement. At Teheran he was in a position to urge Churchill to acknowledge that Poland was his to dispose of, and Churchill, being already sufficiently in agreement with Stalin’s case for securer frontiers in areas through which Hitler had attacked, went far towards doing so. He even took the lead in the discussions on Poland, leaving Stalin to concur. It was agreed that the Poles should be left out of the discussions until later. (About the three Baltic states nothing was said; the silence proclaimed their coming fate.)

Stalin had at Teheran other demands too: half East Prussia, a third of the Italian fleet (to be delivered in January 1944), the Kuriles, the southern half of Sakhalin and a free port at Dairen. In return he accepted an abortive plan propounded by Roosevelt for emasculating Germany by dividing it into five segments and putting the Ruhr, the Saar, Hamburg and the Kiel Canal under international control; agreed to join a world organization and to collaborate in a European Advisory Commission for the discussion of German problems; and repeated the promise already made by Molotov a few weeks earlier to join in the war against Japan as soon as Germany was defeated.

All these matters were dealt with in a single day. The other three days were devoted to military rather than political business. The principal outcome was a promise by the western allies to invade France in May 1944.

The comparatively long list of matters agreed at Teheran can be accounted for less by supposing a basic identity of views than by the fact that both Roosevelt and Stalin attached comparatively little importance to what the other most desired. Roosevelt was chiefly interested in establishing a personal relationship with Stalin, ensuring his entry into the war against Japan and enlisting his participation in the new organization which was to replace the League of Nations. Stalin had no objection to any of these things. For him the real importance of the conference lay in the territorial and political settlements which it might help to ensure in eastern and central Europe and to a lesser extent in the Far East: he intended to keep what he had won before Hitler’s invasion from Finland, the Baltic states, Poland and Rumania and to round off these acquisitions by establishing a primary Russian influence in Bulgaria and the Straits. These were matters to which Roosevelt was much less alert than Churchill. How Roosevelt would have reacted to Russian meddling in western Europe it is impossible to say because Stalin showed no interest in western Europe. Beyond his immediate sphere of interest he postulated only the restoration of an independent Czechoslovakia and Austria and he talked vaguely about partitioning Italy. Churchill continued to have forebodings, but his objections carried in 1943 less weight than they would have done if the conference had been held at an earlier date, partly because of the turn of the military tide in the USSR and partly because the preponderant voice in the western alliance was no longer British but American. Stalin even allowed himself to make during the conference half bantering, half barbed attacks on Churchill which he would hardly have been likely to make a year earlier; he treated Roosevelt with immaculate respect and condescension. Roosevelt responded with what his detractors have called naivety.

The charge is in part valid not because Roosevelt was a foolishly vain man, as lesser men have argued, but in the sense that Roosevelt seems to have overestimated his superabundant political gifts. He had wanted to meet Stalin without Churchill being present and had sent a personal emissary, Joseph E. Davies, a former Ambassador in Moscow, to prepare a tête-à-tête. He argued against the British that it was impolitic to engage in a conference at which Stalin might feel himself outmatched by two to one, but Roosevelt’s deepest motive was his determination to talk Stalin into a personal friendship which would be the counterpart of his special relationship with Churchill. His own career had been based on his special gifts as a manager of men, and he seems to have thought that he could manage Stalin too in much the same way as he had managed American politicians of varying degree and varying views. It is said that old and sick men fall into the error of exaggerating their principal talents. Roosevelt, long a cripple, had held one of the most arduous offices in the world for an unprecedented number of years of unparalleled domestic complexity and external stress. Although at Teheran he seemed still to retain his extraordinary powers, at Yalta only fifteen months later he was dying. His mistake at the end of his life – if one can speak of a mistake in the case of a man whose faculties are deserting him – was to imagine that he could captivate a man like Stalin, a man of a kind uncommon even in American politics and placed in circumstances utterly remote from the imagination of any person raised in the American tradition. Roosevelt was the youngest of the three leaders – three years younger than Stalin, eight years younger than Churchill – but at Teheran and Yalta Stalin was the fittest of the three, not only fitter than Roosevelt but probably also fitter than Churchill, who succumbed to pneumonia after Teheran for the second time that year. It is not unnatural that Stalin had the best reason to be pleased with the way the conference went.

On the immediate strategic issue the Teheran conference agreed that the Anglo-American armies in Italy should advance to Hitler’s Gothic Line (which ran from Pisa to Rimini). If necessary, Overlord might be postponed for a month, but once the Gothic Line was reached further operations in Italy would be entirely subordinated to the requirements of Overlord. This proviso meant in practice that the Supreme Commander in the Mediterranean, now Field Marshal Sir Harold Alexander, would have to relinquish a number of divisions for Anvil which was to take place simultaneously with Overlord. No thought was given to what would be done if the Gothic Line was not reached before the Anvil divisions had to leave the theatre to keep to the Overlord timetable. Yet this is what happened. The Anglo-American advance was so retarded by the Germans that Alexander had to request the cancellation of Anvil. The British Chiefs of Staff supported him; the American Chiefs were very angry but agreed to let him keep his divisions until after the capture of Rome. But Rome was not taken until two days before D-day for Overlord on 6 June with the result that Anvil, postponed until the middle of August, contributed nothing to Overlord and was proved by Overlord’s success to be unnecessary before it took place. Alexander was denied the chance to press forward to the Danube, a plan of his which was warmly espoused by Churchill although regarded as over-optimistic by his military advisers, and the Mediterranean strategy petered out in the autumn rains of the Po valley.

On the eastern fronts the Russians gained in 1944 a series of military victories over the Germans and their allies which they were able to convert without impediment into political advantage. In the west the immense accumulation of American men and material for the invasion of France was accomplished without serious opposition from the German U-boats, and the invasion itself was successfully effected in June and equally successfully exploited until the German counter-attack in the Ardennes in November temporarily delayed the last stages of the overthrow of German power. These operations in east and west were affected by Germany’s continuing need to defend itself on more than one front but otherwise the campaigns of the eastern and western allies owed little to one another. They were independent operations, usefully coincidental but only very loosely coordinated. In these circumstances allied cooperation became even more political and less military, more concerned with the post-war settlement and less with the conduct of the war.

In October 1944 Churchill went again to Moscow for his third meeting with Stalin (the second without Roosevelt who was campaigning for election for a fourth term as President). Churchill had now become much more worried about the fate of eastern and central Europe and the inability of the western allies to prevent the Russians from imposing communist rule in the countries which their armies were overrunning. He tried to strike a bargain with Stalin but since he was bargaining only about eastern territories, without being willing or indeed entitled to concede anything in the west in return, his position was not a strong one except in relation to Greece which, as a Mediterranean country, was more accessible to Anglo-American sea power than to Russian land power.

Stalin and Churchill agreed that all countries would be subject to the joint control of all three allies but that the degrees of interest of each of the three might be unequal and would vary from state to state. In a curiously offhand way in the course of one of their conversations they attempted to represent this idea arithmetically: the Russian interest in Rumania was put at ninety, the western at ten; the same interests in Hungary and Bulgaria were defined as eighty and twenty respectively, in Yugoslavia as fifty-fifty; Greece was rated 90 per cent a western sphere, 10 per cent Russian. This somewhat crude calculation gave offence to the Americans in particular who regarded it as a reversion to the worst practices of spheres of influence. It represented, however, certain realities, whether it was wise or not to put them down on paper. A mark of ninety or seventy-five to the one side acknowledged the impossibility of thwarting that side’s wishes in that area; a fifty-fifty mark recorded uncertainty or a desire not to come to grips there for the time being. In central Europe it recognized what Stalin’s armies had already ensured. In the Mediterranean it gave the British a free hand in Greece.

Poland was not in the list. Both leaders probably thought that, so far as frontiers were concerned, the Polish question had been settled at Teheran. When Mikolajczyk, still apparently ignorant of what had passed at Teheran, flew to Moscow to try to get Stalin to accept Poland’s pre-war frontiers, he failed and the Warsaw rising and its defeat by the Germans (described in a later chapter) eliminated the armed forces in Poland on which the London Poles were relying. Poland’s fate had become settled, and both in Moscow and in London Mikolajczyk found himself treated as a wrecker whose inconvenient demands were imperilling the peace of Europe. He was even upbraided by Churchill in much the same terms as the Czechs had been chided by the appeasers of 1938.

The three leaders met again at Yalta on 4 February 1945. As at Teheran there was no formal agenda; each was free to raise or try to keep out whatever topic he wished to air or to pigeonhole. Since the Teheran conference Russian forces had entered Poland (and the Baltic States) and Stalin had allowed the Polish National Liberation Committee (communist and pro-communist Poles with headquarters in Lublin) to call itself a government. At Yalta Churchill tried to commit Stalin to early and free elections in Poland, but Stalin sidestepped these points by concentrating on frontiers. Poland was discussed briefly. Its frontier with the USSR was fixed and the city of Lvov was decreed to fall on the Russian side of it, but the western and northern frontiers were not agreed. Stalin, having discovered that there were two Neisses, tried to get his allies to agree to the western one but Churchill, arguing that the new Poland would have too many Germans in it, refused and Stalin had to wait for his armies to do the job. The government of Poland was to be reorganized under the direction of Molotov and the American and British Ambassadors in Moscow; it was to have an infusion of Poles from London to leaven the Lublin Committee and after the reorganization free elections were to be held with universal suffrage and a secret ballot. Thus what was left of the Polish issue was shifted out of the conference and onto a committee of three which was to meet later – in Moscow.

The conference was no more precise about the rest of liberated Europe. It adopted a general declaration promising free elections. Stalin agreed that France should have a zone of occupation in Germany and (after much argument) a place on the Allied Control Commission which was to administer Germany. He also conceded everything that Roosevelt wanted in relation to the United Nations: having asked for sixteen seats he accepted three without any fuss and even agreed to support an American demand for three seats if Roosevelt should consider that American public opinion demanded them. In separate Russo-American discussion on the Far East he sought and obtained reaffirmation of the promises already made to him together with an American undertaking to force Chiang Kai-shek to accept them and a further American undertaking not to tell Chiang what was afoot until Stalin was ready for this disclosure. Stalin succeeded in other words in making Roosevelt his accomplice in imposing, at a moment of his own choosing, conditions on Chiang which included recognition of the independence of Outer Mongolia (and its virtual dependence on the USSR), a Russian share in the running of the Manchurian railways, and a Russian naval base in China. A vague notion of sweetening this large pill by getting Great Britain to transfer Hong Kong to China never came to anything. At first sight Stalin’s gains over Roosevelt at Teheran and Yalta over the Far East are surprising, but they have to be seen against Roosevelt’s growing awareness of the uselessness of Chiang as an ally against Japan and his need therefore for Russian help at a time when the coming nuclear weapon was still too mysterious to be relied upon.

With Poland on the way to the solution desired by Stalin and with these considerable Far Eastern advantages underwritten by the United States the only remaining item of real interest to Stalin was reparations. On this issue Stalin got much of what he wanted but not all. Roosevelt took comparatively little part in the reparations discussions. Although the American position was virtually the same as the British, the arguing was left to the latter. Whereas the Russians wished to impose reparations as a penalty, the Americans and British regarded them as restitution only for civilian damage. They considered that reparations should be paid only out of current German production and only after securing to the German people a minimum standard of living. They were opposed to the removal of capital assets and to the pauperization of Germany. Stalin on the other hand hoped to secure, besides regular reparations, payments spread over ten years, a German labour force to work in Russian devastated areas for ten years and something like 80 per cent of Germany’s surviving heavy industrial plant. He proposed that the USSR’s share of reparations payments in cash should be $10 billion and that the apportionment of the total sum should be made on the basis of the contribution which each of Germany’s victims had made to the German defeat and not on the basis of its losses – a method which could have operated to give very little to countries which had been quickly defeated, however much they had suffered afterwards. Although the conference reached no final decisions on reparations Stalin succeeded in stamping the figure of $10 billion on future discussions. Most tellingly, Stalin abandoned at Yalta the policy of dismembering Germany. The simplest explanation of this change is that, confident of the departure of American troops from Europe, he thought he had a chance to dominate all Germany.

When the Yalta conference broke up, the Russian armies were on the Oder and the Danube and the western armies on the Rhine. The Grand Alliance had won the war in Europe. One of its leaders did not live to see the end: Roosevelt died on 12 April. His successor, Harry S. Truman, joined Churchill and Stalin at one more conference, at Potsdam in July. Its discussions were about war in Asia, but peace in Europe. But the shape of the new Europe was settled neither at Yalta nor at Potsdam, meetings which affected no more than the marginal details of the march of armed events. In earlier years Stalin had pleaded with Roosevelt and Churchill to open a second front in 1943, for want of which he feared defeat. Having survived and won, he benefited from the delay, for it gave him a mastery which he would not have enjoyed if the western armies had been able to begin their advances into central Europe a year earlier.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!