Churchill fears a communist dominated eastern Europe

Victory in the West April - May 1945: Russian and American soldiers rest on the banks of the River Elbe, following the link-up between the US 1st Army and the Russian 1st Ukrainian Army at Torgau sixty miles south of Berlin.
Victory in the West April – May 1945: Russian and American soldiers rest on the banks of the River Elbe, following the link-up between the US 1st Army and the Russian 1st Ukrainian Army at Torgau sixty miles south of Berlin.
Field Marshal Montgomery adds his signature to the document of surrender signed by the German delegation at 21st Army Group HQ at Luneburg Heath, 4 May 1945.
Field Marshal Montgomery adds his signature to the document of surrender signed by the German delegation at 21st Army Group HQ at Luneburg Heath, 4 May 1945.

Britain and France had gone to war with Germany over the independence of Poland in 1939. They had not been able to offer much material support at the time. Now that Poland had been ‘liberated’ by Soviet forces the situation was barely any better in many peoples eyes. The realisation was growing that it was not just Poland that was now under Stalin’s control but all of eastern Europe.

On the 4th May 1945 Winston Churchill wrote to his Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden, as he began to grasp the the full implications of the realpolitic on the ground:

I fear terrible things have happened during the Russian advance through Germany to the Elbe. The proposed withdrawal of the United States Army to the occupational lines which were arranged … would mean a tide of Russian domination sweeping forward 120 miles on a front of 200 or 400 miles.

This would be an event which, if it occurred, would be one of the most melancholy in history. After it was over and the territory occupied by the Russians, Poland would be completely engulfed and buried deep in Russian-occupied lands…

The Russian frontier would run from the North Cape in Norway … across the Baltic to a point just east of Lubeck … half-way across [Austria] to the Izonzo river behind which Tito and Russia will claim everything to the east. Thus the territories under Russian control would include the Baltic Provinces, all of Germany to the occupa- tional line, all Czechoslovakia, a large part of Austria, the whole of Yugoslavia, Hungary, Roumania, Bulgaria, until Greece in her present tottering condition is reached…

This constitutes an event in the history of Europe to which there has been no parallel….All these matters can only be settled before the United States Armies in Europe are weakened … It is to this early and speedy showdown and settle- ment with Russia that we must now turn our hopes. Meanwhile I am against weakening our claim against Russia on behalf of Poland in any way.

Men of 6th Airborne Division greet the crew of a Russian T-34/85 tank during the link-up of British and Soviet forces near Wismar on the Baltic coast, 3 May 1945.
Men of 6th Airborne Division greet the crew of a Russian T-34/85 tank during the link-up of British and Soviet forces near Wismar on the Baltic coast, 3 May 1945.

The British Army very rapidly got a taste of what the future held. Despite all the propaganda pictures of Allied soldiers embracing their opposite number in the Red Army, from the very beginning there was an uneasy relationship between the two sides. Denis Edwards recalls one episode from the 3rd-4th May that spoke volumes about the nature of their Soviet ‘ally’:

There, on 3 May, 1945, at Bad Kleinen, midway between Wismar and Schwerin, on the banks of a river that linked the Baltic Sea with the great inland lake of Schwerin, and not many days’ march from the Polish border, the victorious British and Russian armies met.

For us it was the end of a 280-mile advance across northern Germany that had begun on 24 March with the Airborne landing at Hamminkeln. We had been marching almost flat out day and night for what seemed like an eternity. Now we were camped on the western bank of the river, looking across at our Russian comrades-in-arms camped on the opposite side. They crossed over a wide bridge in considerable numbers from their side of the river and invited us to drink vodka with them; whatever else may have been in short supply they appeared to have an almost unlimited amount of their favourite tipple.

They obviously used their visit to have a good look round our tented camp, for when darkness fell a large band of them paid us another visit, this time uninvited.

They entered our main supply tent and, at gunpoint, tied up the Quartermaster and his staff and made off to their side of the river with most of our rations! When the theft was discovered we immediately placed an armed guard at our end of the bridge and refused to allow any more Russians to cross to our side.

They did likewise. This may well have been one of the first acts of what was to be called the ‘cold war’ and which was to endure for half a century thereafter.

The morning after their raid on our supplies one of the lads from the Quarter- master’s staff thought that he recognized one of the Russians who had been in their raiding party. A group of us crossed the bridge and were met at the other side by a Russian officer. We assumed that he was an officer as he wore some kind of uniform, while most of the others, Mongol types from their appearance, were dressed like peasants in scruffy smocks.

As best we could, by sign language, we pointed out the man who we believed had been a member of the gang who had stolen our food. The Russian seemed to understand what we meant; he nodded, then turned and strode across to the suspect that we had indicated. We assumed that he was going to question him, or bring him over to us for positive identification. Instead, he drew a revolver from its holster, put the barrel against the man’s mouth and fired, blowing off half of his head. We were horrified as he returned to us, grinning from ear to ear, and indicating that, while the man may have stolen our food, he would certainly not be eating any more of it!

See Denis Edwards: Devils Own Luck: Pegasus Bridge to the Baltic 1944-45

Infantry ride on Sherman tanks of 6th Armoured Division as they head towards the Austrian border, 4 May 1945.
Infantry ride on Sherman tanks of 6th Armoured Division as they head towards the Austrian border, 4 May 1945.
A Cromwell tank crew of 'C' Squadron, 5th Royal Tank Regiment in Hamburg, 4 May 1945. The man sitting on the tank is a former Russian POW who had been fighting alongside the crew.
A Cromwell tank crew of ‘C’ Squadron, 5th Royal Tank Regiment in Hamburg, 4 May 1945. The man sitting on the tank is a former Russian POW who had been fighting alongside the crew.

Stalin orders the Katyn Forest murders

The front page of the order for the executions, signed by Stalin.

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From the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union to comrade STALIN

In the NKVD POW camps and in the prisons of the western oblasts of Ukraine and Belorussia there is currently a large number of former officers of the Polish army, former Polish police officers and employees of intelligence agencies, members of Polish nationalist c-r (counterrevolutionary) parties, participants in underground c-r rebel organizations, defectors and so on. All of them are implacable enemies of Soviet power and full of hatred for the Soviet system. Continue reading “Stalin orders the Katyn Forest murders”

Stalin deports Poles from Russian occupied Poland

The 10th February 1940 saw the first wave of four mass deportations of Poles settled in Eastern Poland to the far reaches of Siberian Russia. This was a well established Soviet method of dealing with ethnic groups seen as potentially troublesome to the regime. Polish nationals were seen as ‘enemies of the people’ simply because they had a distinct national identity. Stalin’s answer was to murder the officer class in the forests of Katyn and elsewhere, and the wholesale resettlement of tens of thousands of Poles:
Continue reading “Stalin deports Poles from Russian occupied Poland”

Stalin’s 60th birthday telegrams

Mr. JOSEPH STALIN,
Moscow.
Please accept my most sincere congratulations on your sixtieth birthday. I take this occasion to tender my best wishes. I wish you personally good health and a happy future for the peoples of the friendly Soviet Union.
ADOLF HITLER

Mr. JOSEPH STALIN,
Moscow.
Remembering the historic hours in the Kremlin which inaugurated the decisive turn in the relations between our two great peoples and thereby created the basis for a lasting friendship between us, I beg us to accept my warmest congratulations on you birthday.
JOACHIM VON RIBBENTROP
Minister of Foreign Affairs

COMRADE STALIN,
The Kremlin, Moscow.
On behalf of the working people of Finland, who are fighting shoulder to shoulder with the heroic Red Army to liberate their country from the yoke of the whiteguard hangmen and hirelings of foreign warmongers, for the victory of the independent Democratic Republic of Finland, the Peope’s Government of Finland on the occasion of the sixtieth birthday of Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin expresses its profoundest esteem to the great friend of the people of Finland. Stalin, whose name will always be the symbol of friendship and brotherhood of the peoples of the Soviet Union and of Finland, as well as of all the peoples of the world.
On behalf of the People’s
Government of Finland,
OTTO KUUSINEN

Otto Kuusinen was the Finnish Communist Party member appointed head of the puppet regime, ‘The Democratic Republic of Finland’, that Stalin intended to impose on Finland. He had lived in Soviet Russia since the Finnish civil war of 1918 and was one of the few Finnish communist party members to escape Stalin’s purges.

Germany and Russia sign Non-Aggression Pact

Hitler and Stalin surprised the world when they announced a pact between themselves. The arrangement allowed Hitler to launch his forces against Poland knowing that he would not suffer from Russian interference. Furthermore he would be free to turn to West without worrying about his Eastern front in due. The clause dividing Poland with Russia remained secret until the moment Russian troops marched into Poland on the 17th September.

See Professor Orlando-Figes on the historical context of the Pact.