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Author(s) of the publication: Yaroslav RENKAS

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by Yaroslav RENKAS, Cand. Sc. (Hist.)

For all their merits and demerits, Joseph Stalin and Sir Winston Churchill shall always be alive in human memory as men who have played a signal part in history. Virtually mountains of books have been written about them. And yet every new book is an event for the reading public. Like one just off the press here in Russia: Stalin and Churchill: Their Meetings, Talks, Discussions (Moscow, Nauka Publishers, 2004, 564 pp.). Its author, an eminent Russian historian Oleg Rzheshevsky, cites documents from the personal files of the leaders of the Anti-Hitler Coalition illuminating their role during the Second World War.

Proceeding from this evidentiary material and the correspondence between Sir Winston and Stalin, the author probes into the fabric of Soviet-British relations and shows how our two countries allied in the war against Hitler searched for compromise. He looks into the possibilities and limits of such compromise, and into the significance of two-way negotiations and personal contacts. Some of these documents supplied with commentaries, maps and illustrations are published for the first time.

Pages. 77


Joseph Stalin and Sir Winston Churchill opened their diplomatic duels immediately after Germany's attack on the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941. Their initial contacts in the war against Hitler are examined in the first chapter of the book.

On December 8, 1941, Foreign Secretary Sir Anthony Eden set out aboard the cruiser Kent for negotiations with the Soviet Government. This visit was undertaken on Winston Churchill's initiative and by agreement with Stalin with the object of concerning further action against Hitler.

Our country was in dire straits at that time. The German forces had slashed deep into Soviet territory: 400 to 450 km in the northwest, 450 to 600 km in the central, western sector, and 300 to 350 km in the southwest.

In September and October the retreating Soviet armies had to evacuate from Kiev, Odessa and the Donbass coal-mining area. The enemy broke into the Crimea and besieged Sebastopol; developing his thrust on the Southern Front, he approached Rostov on Don in November. The Nazi troops kept advancing on Moscow.

Sir Antony's diplomatic mission concurred with an event of crucial significance: the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941; Germany and Italy then declared war on the United States, and the greatest, most appalling struggle the world had yet seen gained new momentum.

Even though the immediate threat of Wehrmacht's invasion was off, Great Britain was still hard pressed. For more than two years the British had been making strong and spirited resistance to the Nazis; the British had shown great bravery and tenacity in beating off the blitzkrieg in 1940 in what is known as the Battle of Britain and inflicted tangible losses on the Italian army in Africa. However, Britain had suffered a setback in France and had lost strategic positions in Scandinavia and in the Balkans. As the crisis in the Pacific came to a head at the close of 1941, the United Kingdom declared war on Japan, for all British-owned territories in East Asia, including Singapore, Ceylon and India, had to be protected from the sea, what with the superiority of the emeny in the navy, air force and land troops. All that could end in disaster for Britain.

At this point Soviet-British relations changed overnight. The stiff

Pages. 78


confrontation of the two powers on the eve of World War II (which prevented a system of collective security in Europe against the German threat) gave way to important political decisions in pooling efforts against the common foe.

Such was the background of the negotiations that Anthony Eden was having with the Soviet leadership. Winston Churchill followed closely these talks, he controlled every step of the British delegation and sent instructions every day.

Two overriding problems had to be cleared up to begin with. First, Soviet-British concerted action in the military-strategic sphere. Second, the post-war settlement in Europe after the defeat of Nazi Germany. The book cites draft treaties on mutual assistance and accord, transcripts of the talks that Anthony Eden had with Joseph Stalin and Vyacheslav Molotov (secret talks, too) and other materials in which the two sides aired their views and made proposals. British deliveries of war materiel, weapons and strategic materials figured prominently on the agenda. International problems were likewise discussed-namely restoration of the prewar borders of Poland (with part of Prussia to be given to her by way of compensation for German aggression), of Czechoslovakia (which was to get back Sudetenland annexed by Germany in 1938 as well as southern districts of Hungary), Albania, Turkey, Greece and France (where the collaborator Petain government was to be removed from office); similar provisions were made with regard to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

The Soviet Union would get lands in the Danube estuary (with three tributaries) from Romania.

Now what concerned Germany: Stalin pressed for her disarmament and disintegration into several smaller states; above all her industrial regions should be separated from Prussia, and Austria restored as an independent state.

Stalin likewise intended to play tough with respect to Finland who, breaking the peace treaty with our country, joined hands with Hitler in the unprovoked, treacherous attack on the U.S.S.R. Finland was to be confined to her borders of 1940. Besides, the Soviet Union should have the right to station a limited troops contingent on her territory; and her government, guilty of aggression, should be replaced.

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And last, we wanted to restore our borders the way they had been in 1941 prior to the German attack. In addition, the Soviet Union should be given the right of keeping army, air force and naval bases on Romanian territory.

Although the Soviet Union and Great Britain did not sign any major agreements at that stage, they elucidated their positions none the less. The Churchill government, however, soon revised its stand considerably. Soviet diplomacy tried to preclude such turnabout - this is the subject of the second part of the book under review. In his cable to the British Prime Minister of April 22, 1942, Joseph Stalin declared this in part:

"... A few days ago the Soviet Government received from Mr. Eden the drafts of two treaties between the U.S.S.R. and Britain, which substantially depart on certain points from the texts of the treaties discussed during Mr. Eden's stay in Moscow. As this circumstance involves fresh differences which it is hard to iron out by correspondence, the Soviet Government has resolved, despite the difficulties, to send V. M. Molotov [People's Commissar (Minister) for Foreign Affairs. -Ed. ] to London for personal talks with a view of settling the issues holding up the signing of the treaties. This is all the more essential as the question of a second front in Europe raised by Mr. Roosevelt, the US President, in the latest message to me, inviting V. M. Molotov to Washington to discuss the matter, calls for a preliminary exchange of views between representatives of our two Governments.

"Please accept my regards and wishes for success in the fight against the enemies of Great Britain.

April 22, 1942

J . Stalin"

As W. Churchill said in his reply message, "we shall of course welcome Monsieur Molotov, with whom I am confident we shall be able to do much useful work."*

Late in the evening of May 19, 1942, Molotov embarked on a long and circuitous journey of 20,000 km - long enough even by present-day standards-on board a TB-7 (Pe-8) bomber which reached its destination next day, May 20th, and landed safely at Tilling in Britain. Bilateral negotiations began the following day.

Meanwhile the situation on the battle fronts remained strained, though the Soviet counteroffensive at Moscow (5th December 1941 - 7th January 1942) culminated in a heavy defeat of the German Wehrmacht and shattered the myth about its invincibility. Late in March 1942 only 140 battle-worthy tanks were left in service in the sixteen panzer divisions engaged on the Eastern Front. The German command had to move in as many as thirty fresh troop contingents for reinforcing their battle-torn armies. The Germans managed to regain initiative in May - first at Kerch in the Crimea and then at Kharkov where they encircled a large contingent of Soviet troops. These events (May-June 1942) set the stage for an overall offensive in the southern sector of the front - launched on June 28, 1942, in the direction of Voronezh, Stalingrad and the Caucasus.

The enemy had also initiative in hand overseas. The British failed to smash the German-Italian forces in Africa. In east Asia and the Pacific the United Kingdom lost all its colo-


* English texts cited from Correspondence between the Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the U.S.S.R. and the Presidents of the U.S.A. and the Prime Ministers of Great Britain During the Great Patriotic War of 1941 - 1945 (further referred to as Correspondence). Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow 1957, Vol. 1, pp. 44 - 45.

Pages. 80


nial possessions. The battle continued in full swing in the Atlantic, too, where the German U-boats sank as many as 340 surface ships of the Western allies in just five months late in 1941 and early in 1942.

The United States, too, lost its strategic positions in East Asia and at sea as a result of the sudden Japanese attack. Yet Japan failed to exploit the initial success and crush the American will to resistance. Her hopes to knock Britain out of the war within a few months did not materialize either. The Japanese bogged down in a protracted war against a coalition of states with a gigantic economic and war-making potential.

Such was a dismal setting for Soviet-British talks - conducted through Soviet Ambassador Ivan Maisky and via direct exchange of messages between Stalin and Churchill. Matters of coordinated war effort, arms and war materiel deliveries as well a treaty of alliance were still in the focus of attention.

The Soviet side pinned hopes on a second front in Western Europe, and for this sake it was ready for concessions and compromise. As Molotov recalled thirty-four years later (this oral testimony recorded on June 30, 1976): "We insisted on a document concerning our post-war borders. I don't remember the details, but I do remember the main points, of course. We kept insisting on it all the time, and I stressed that too. Stalin did this in 1941, and then I went [to London] with a draft in 1942. Said Churchill: 'This we cannot do, never.' Quite at a loss, I tried this and that. Then I sent a cable to Stalin. He replied: Go ahead and agree without this [point]. So I went ahead. The crux of the matter was the Baltic area, the recognition of our right to it. They [the British] did not agree. But they were amazed as we withdrew this point, we had to do it at that moment. Churchill was astonished. Eden was very glad that we met them halfway."

An Anglo-Soviet treaty of alliance could be an important prop for the anti-Hitler coalition in its fight against the common enemy. This aim - the tightening of the alliance - keynoted Molotov's follow-up visit to Washington, where he met President Franklin D. Roosevelt for talks on a second front in Europe and on a US-Soviet treaty of mutual aid.

These negotiations are discussed in the third chapter citing dozens of related documents. After hard bargaining the two sides finally agreed on the urgency of a second front in 1942 and on steps toward increasing and expediting deliveries of war equipment, ammunition and raw materials to the Soviet Union.

Meanwhile the situation on the battle fronts kept deteriorating. In Lybia the German-Italian force under General Erwin Rommel launched a vigorous offensive and overwhelmed the British despite their heavy superiority in tanks. The situation went bad on the Soviet-German front as well. So a second front in Europe and large-scale deliveries came to be of exceptional significance. To speed up a settlement, Molotov made another visit to London on his way home from the United States; this visit is covered in the fourth chapter of the book.

After a new round of talks Molotov cabled this message to Stalin on June 9, 1942: "During negotiations... full agreement was reached with regard to urgent tasks of a second front in Europe in 1942. Besides,., also discussed were steps toward increasing and quickening deliveries to the Soviet Union of aircraft, tanks and other armaments from Britain... Both sides state with satisfaction their unity of views on all the above issues."

Pages. 81


Pages. 82


But other comments were not optimistic like that. O. Rzheshevsky, the author of the book we are surveying, remarks on this score: "... Churchill and his Chiefs of Staff found it advisable to land a force in North Africa, not in Europe, in 1942... Therefore a week after his meetings with Molotov Churchill went to the United States so as to talk Roosevelt into that operation. The outcome of his negotiations with Roosevelt (17 - 25 June 1942) amounted to a 'disguised victory of the British position', which cancelled plans for any invasion of the European continent even in 1943 [Secret Correspondence Between Roosevelt and Churchill During the War, translated from the English; ed. F. Lowenheim, G. Langley, M. Jonas, M., 1995, p. 258]. Churchill had to 'explain himself to Stalin during his Moscow visit in August 1942. This is the subject of the fifth chapter.

Early in August, i.e. on the eve of the British premier's visit, Soviet Ambassador to London Maisky cabled a detailed report to Moscow on Churchill's intentions together with his own recommendations for the forthcoming talks.

First, the British prime minister pursued domestic objectives - "fortify the position of the Government and placate the popular masses pressing for a second front in 1942... He wants to gain time for political maneuvering at home-in Parliament too-in view of this demand... Second, well aware of the gravity of the situation, the premier works toward a united strategy of

Pages. 83


the Allies, with himself as a go-between. Third, Churchill will try to persuade Comrade Stalin that a second front in Europe was both impossible and undesirable in 1942, chiefly because he does not believe in the efficiency of the British Army in a head-on clash with Germany... Britain is undoubtedly interested in the weakening of both the U.S.S.R. and Germany, but is in no way interested in Germany's victory."

On August 12, 1942, a British plane with Sir Winston Churchill on board touched down in Moscow's Central aerodrome. The same day Churchill met Stalin for talks.

A second front in Europe was naturally the central issue on the agenda. The British guest declared then and there he could make no definite promises for 1942. "The attack with 6 or 8 Anglo-American Divisions... would be a hazardous and futile operation..." Did that mean, Stalin asked, "there would be no second front this year, and that the British Government would not land 6 or 8 divisions in France this year?" In turn, Churchill asked Stalin what he understood by a "second front". -"A large-scale invasion of Europe this year", came the reply.

In conclusion the two men discussed possible support of the Royal Air Force on the southern flank of the Soviet-German Front and for diversive measures at Pas de Calais and in Norway as a blind for the Torch operation in North Africa.

The next two meetings, on August 13 and 14, added nothing new to this crucial matter. In his Memorandum of August 13, 1942, Stalin made his point abundantly clear: "... I have established that Mr. Churchill, the British Prime Minister, considers it impossible to open a second front in Europe in 1942...

Pages. 84


"... The British Government's refusal to open a second front in Europe in 1942 delivers a moral blow to Soviet public opinion... complicates the position of the Red Army at the front...

"... The refusal to open a second front in 1942 is bound to impair the military position of Britain and the other Allies."*

In the final communique the Soviet side voiced its dissatisfaction with the outcome of the talks.

The next, sixth chapter of the book covers the historic conference of the three leaders of the anti-Hitler coalition in Tehran (28 November-1 December 1943). The global military-political situation differed radically from the one obtained in August 1942 during Churchill's visit to Moscow. The Red Army's victories at Stalingrad and at Kursk effected a turning-point in the war. Nazi Germany lost 80 percent of her forces engaged against the Soviet Union.

Britain and USA, too, scored major victories and turned the tables on the Germans. The allied forces smashed a 240,000 grouping of German-Italian troops in North Africa, landed in Sicily and in southern Italy, as a result of which the Mussolini government fell and Italy was knocked out of the war. In the Pacific the USA and its allies kept pressing on Japan.

Concerted action of the powers allied in the anti-Hitler coalition was gaining a new strategic momentum, with the issue of a second front in Europe still in the foreground.

But again the Western allies went back on their promise to open a second front in France. In his message to Churchill on June 24, 1943, the Soviet leader wrote this in particular: "... I must tell you that the point here is not just the disappointment of the Soviet Government, but the preservation of the confidence in its Allies, a confidence which is being subjected to severe stress. One should not forget that it is a question of saving millions of lives in the occupied areas of Western Europe and Russia and of reducing the enormous sacrifices of the Soviet armies, compared with which the sacrifices of the Anglo-American armies are insignificant."**

Seeking to remedy the situation, Churchill and Roosevelt met in Quebec, Canada, at a conference in which their Chiefs of Staff were also taking part. The two leaders resolved it was possible to undertake a cross-Channel landing of troops in Normandy and in southern France in May 1944. The ultimate decision was to be taken at a summit of the Big Three previously agreed upon.

Both Churchill and Roosevelt were anxious about the forward thrust of the Soviet armies westward. On his way to Cairo on board the American battleship Iowa to a conference of the British, American and Chinese leaders (held before the Tehran meeting of the government heads of the U.S.S.R., U.S.A. and Great Britain), President Roosevelt remarked to his Chiefs of Staffs on November 19, 1943: the Soviet troops stand only 60 miles away from Poland and 40 miles - from Bessarabia; should they cross the Bug (which they could do within the next two weeks), they would turn up on Romania's threshold. The US President said his country and Britain should do their utmost to overrun Europe's larger part. The British were to occupy


Correspondence..., Vol. 1, pp. 60 - 61. - Tr.

** Correspondence.., Vol. 1, p. 138. - Tr.

Pages. 85


France, Belgium, Luxembourg as well southern Germany-Baden, Belgium and Wurtemberg. The United States, President Roosevelt continued, should seize northwestern Germany and bring its ships into Bremen and Hamburg, and also into ports of Norway and Denmark. US troops should advance as far as Berlin. Let the Soviets occupy territory to the east, but the United States should capture Berlin!

Meanwhile Churchill eyed the Balkans, Europe's "soft underbelly", as a linchpin of his strategy aimed at prohibiting the Red Army from liberating central and southeastern Europe.

Such was the backdrop of the Tehran Conference of Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin that opened on November 28,1943. A second front in Europe was still the Number One issue on the agenda. The Allies fixed the date for this operation - code-named Overlord - May 1, 1944 (festivities in Normandy on June 6, 2004, on the 60th anniversary of Overlord were also attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin). At the very outset President Roosevelt said that since the allied forces could be engaged elsewhere prior to that date, a cross-Channel attack might be postponed for another two or three months, specifically in case of major landing operations in the Mediterranean.

Winston Churchill argued that the priority objective was to capture Rome and block Germany from the south by mounting an offensive in the Balkans and the eastern Mediterranean. Thus cross-Channel operations might be postponed for a time. Then he articulated his stand categorically: I cannot sacrifice operations in the Mediterranean for the sake of preserving the date May 1st.

Stalin objected by saying that the Italian theater was important only for the free passage of ships, but it had no major significance for subsequent operations against Germany since an offensive across the Alps would be a laborious venture.

At the end of the meeting Stalin and Churchill had an exchange of "compliments". Churchill: "I think God is on our side. I have done everything to make Him our ally... Stalin: Well, the Devil must be on my side then. Because everybody knows the Devil is a Communist. As to God, He must be a respectable Conservative..."

Charles Bolen, who interpreted for Roosevelt, recalled after the war: at a dinner Stalin dropped hints about Churchill's unwillingness to proceed against Germany in good earnest; riled, the British prime minister confided to his surgeon Lord Moran that

Pages. 86


a new and more blood-letting war could break out upon Germany's capitulation; he meant the Soviet Union of course. Churchill revealed his true countenance in that statement as an "irreconcilable" ally of Stalin's.

In the end the Tehran Conference decided on the operation Overlord to be launched in Normandy in May 1944. Churchill's Balkan strategy thus suffered a setback.

Germany's future after the war was another important issue. President Roosevelt proposed that Germany should be divided into five independent states, with Ruhr and Saar as well as Hamburg and Kiel placed under international control. Churchill upheld this proposal but suggested including Bavaria and other southern provinces of Germany into a Danube Confederation to be established with war's end.

Prussia, he said, should be isolated from Germany.

The matter of restoring the Soviet territory within its 1941 borders met no objections. Poland was to get a territorial compensation at Germany's expense. Stalin also raised the issue of transferring Konigsberg and part of East Prussia to the Soviet Union. - the Russians have no ice-free ports in the Baltic, he said. -All the more so since these are the Slav lands historically.

The Tehran Conference played an outstanding role in that the Allies coordinated their further plans in the prosecution of the war against Germany and Japan, and discussed key problems of a post-war settlement. This is the subject of the book's closing chapters. In particular, the author examines diplomatic duels between Stalin and Churchill over Poland and its emigre government in London, their tug of war during the Yalta (Crimea) Conference of February 1945 and at Potsdam in July and August 1945, and many other matters.

Oleg Rzheshevsky's book furnishes a novel and in-depth look into real facts of World War II and the contribution made by each of the allies singly to the victory. This tragic page of human history, the author maintains, has not been read to the end yet.

Orphus

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