War Time Conferences – 1945

Checklist of key concepts personalities and events that you should know and understand:

  • Stalin, Churchill, Attlee, Roosevelt, Truman
  • The Grand Alliance, 1941
  • Tehran Conference, 1943
  • Yalta Conference, February 2nd-11th, 1945
  • German surrender – Victory in Europe Day – May 7th, 1945
  • The Manhattan Project carries out the Trinity Test, July 16th, 1945
  • Potsdam Conference, July 17th-August 2nd, 1945
  • The use of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, August 6th and 9th, 1945, respectively

The war time conferences represent the high water mark of collaboration between the allies and also the place where some of the key themes of the Cold War first began to emerge in the agreements and sources of tension at those meetings: the division of Germany and Berlin, Stalin’s intentions for Eastern Europe, and emergence of the Atomic bomb.

One of the key features of the Wartime meetings that was particularly apparent at Tehran (1943) and at Yalta (February 1945) was the relationship between Roosevelt and Stalin. It should be recalled that America had given diplomatic recognition to the USSR for the first time in 1933 – during Roosevelt’s presidency – and that there had been a degree of co-operation and sharing of expertise during the 1930s. In 1932, for example, the Dnieper (or Dneprostroi) Hydro-electric Dam was completed in 1932 with the help of six American Engineers who had worked on a similar project at Niagra and were subsequently awarded the Order of the Red Banner of Labour. Under Roosevelt, America adopted schemes of publicly funded work creation known as the ‘New Deal’ that was less about private enterprise than about government intervention. So there was in some ways greater sympathy between the two powers in the 1930s than there had been in the booming ’20s. This was of course interrupted by the Nazi-Soviet Pact of August 1939, but America supported Russia after 1941 in the form of ‘lend lease’. The understanding between Roosevelt and Stalin was more than a case of personalities who happened to get along therefore.

Yalta, February 2nd-11th, 1945

In many ways, the Yalta meeting was the high water mark of US-USSR co-operation, but it also marked the limits of the relationship.

Together the ‘big three’ issued The Declaration of Liberated Europe which promised to allow the people of Europe “to create democratic institutions of their own choice”. The declaration pledged, “the earliest possible establishment through free elections governments responsive to the will of the people.” This reflected the statements of the Atlantic Charter agreed between American and Great Britain in August 1941, which promised “the right of all people to choose the form of government under which they will live.”

Roosevelt took this at face value and gave a lot of ground at Yalta, where the big three agreed in respect of Germany that:

  • the first priority was its unconditional surrender;
  • it would undergo de-militarization and de-nazification; and Nazi war criminals would be put on trial
  • it would be split into four occupied zones; including one for France that would be formed out of the American and British zones;
  • reparations could be taken, were partly in the form of forced labour and that a reparation council would be created and located in the Soviet Union;

In addition, the status of Poland was discussed. It was agreed that:

  • the communist Provisional Government of the Republic of Poland installed by the Soviet Union would be reorganised “on a broader democratic basis”;
  • Stalin pledged to permit free elections in Poland;
  • The Polish eastern border would follow the Curzon Line (originally established after WWI, but ignored by the Treaty of Riga (1921), and Poland would receive territorial compensation in the west from Germany;

In return Stalin undertook to::

  • participate in the UN;
  • accept only two Republics apart from Russia would be granted membership of the UN – Belorussia and Ukraine;
  • enter the fight against the Empire of Japan “in two or three months after Germany has surrendered and the war in Europe is terminated”.

Stalin did well out of Yalta. Roosevelt brushed off warnings that Stalin would build his own dictatorship in parts of Europe held by the Red Army. He explained that “I just have a hunch that Stalin is not that kind of a man”, and reasoned, “I think that if I give him everything I possibly can and ask for nothing from him in return, ‘noblesse oblige’, he won’t try to annex anything and will work with me for a world of democracy and peace.”

Potsdam, July 17th to August 2nd, 1945

In the 5 months between Yalta and Potsdam a lot of change had occurred.

The most important difference was that Nazi Germany surrendered on 7th May 1945. Without that common enemy it was not clear what else the Soviet Union and the United States still had in common. Perhaps things would have been different were not for three further changes:

Firstly, the Soviet Union now occupied Central and Eastern Europe. By July, the Red Army effectively controlled the Baltic states, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania. In violation of his promises at Yalta, Stalin had set up a communist government in Poland. He insisted that his control of Eastern Europe was a defensive measure against possible future attacks and claimed that it was a legitimate sphere of Soviet influence. Stalin broke the pledge taken in the Declaration of Liberated Europe by encouraging Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, and many more countries to construct a Communist government, instead of letting the people construct their own. The countries later became known as Stalin’s Satellite Nations

Secondly, in America Franklyn Delaney Roosevelt had succumbed to a cerebral hemhorrage on April 12 and was replaced by his Vice-President, Harold S. Truman. Truman had won the nomination to the Vice Presidency in the expectation that Roosevelt would not live out his fourth term in office. He was the preferred candidate to Roosevelt’s previous Veep – Henry Wallace – who had been considered too left wing and too sympathetic to labour interests. As a result, America now had a more right wing, more realist and more anti-communist, Commander-in-Chief at the closing stages of World War II. Truman and Churchill believed that Roosevelt had been duped by Stalin at Yalta.

Thirdly, Truman rose to office just at the point when the Manhattan Project was about to test its first Atomic bomb. Truman was determined to change the direction of American policy before Potsdam and he saw Soviet actions in Eastern Europe as aggressive expansionism which was incompatible with the agreements Stalin had committed to at Yalta the previous February. Truman’s confidence was no doubt boosted when, just before Potsdam (July-August, 1945), the first nuclear test codenamed Trinity had succeeded, bolstering his confidence at the meeting, which he was said to have ‘bossed’.

The first agreements made at Potsdam were to do with what was to happen to Germany after the war. It was agreed that:

  • it would be demilitarized, denazified, democratized;
  • both Germany and Austria would be divided respectively into four occupation zones (earlier agreed in principle at Yalta), and similarly each capital, Berlin and Vienna, was to be divided into four zones;
  • Nazi war criminals would be put to trial.
  • all German annexations in Europe were to be reversed, including the Sudetenland, Alsace-Lorraine, Austria, and the westernmost parts of Poland;
  • Germany’s eastern border would be shifted westwards to the Oder–Neisse line, effectively reducing Germany in size by approximately 25% compared to its 1937 borders;
  • the expulsions of German populations remaining beyond the new eastern borders, from Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary, were to be “Orderly and humane”;
  • reparations to the Soviet Union would come from their zone of occupation in Germany; and that 10% of the industrial capacity of the western zones unnecessary for the German peace economy would be transferred to the Soviet Union within 2 years;
  • German standards of living would not exceed the European average; The types and amounts of industry to dismantle to achieve this was to be determined later;
  • German industrial war-potential would be destroyed, through the destruction or control of all industry with military potential. Henceforth the German industry would focus solely on domestic goods

A second area of discussion was over Poland:

  • A Provisional Government of National Unity recognized by all three powers should be created (known as the Lublin Poles). When the Big Three recognized the Soviet controlled government, it meant, in effect, the end of recognition for the existing Polish government-in-exile (known as the London Poles).
  • Poles who were serving in the British Army should be free to return to Poland, with no security upon their return to the communist country guaranteed.
  • The provisional western border should be the Oder–Neisse line, defined by the Oder and Neisse rivers
  • Stalin proposed and it was accepted that Poland was to be excluded from division of German compensation;
  • The Soviet Union declared it would settle the reparation claims of Poland from its own share of the overall reparation payments.

Yalta, February 1945 – PODCAST – agreements on: Prosecution of Nazis; Occupied Germany to be Divided after the war into 4 Zones; Call democratic elections in liberated territories; All countries to join the UN; Soviet Union to join the war against Japan after Germany’s defeat; Transfer of Polish citizens westward along with Polish borders and democratic elections to take place in Poland.

Potsdam, July 1945 – CLASP – sources of tension: Clash of personalities (Truman replaced Roosevelt); Loss of common enemy (Hitler had been defeated); Stalin had broken his word over Poland.
GRENADE – agreements on: Germany to be rebuilt and restored; Reparations to be taken from occupied zone by occupying power, if required; Ethnic Germans to be removed from Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary; Nuremberg trials would proceed; Allied Control Commission to de-Nazify and reorganise German life; Democracy to be restored; Europe to be rebuilt by a Council of Foreign Ministers.

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