IN February, 1945, at Yalta and on June 6, 1944, the date of the Allied invasion of Normandy, it might be said that we lost the peace. American political and strategic mistakes during the war possibly lengthened it, certainly made it more difficult, and are largely responsible for the difficulties and crises through which we have been passing since the war.
It is, of course, easy to be wise in retrospect and to look back with the benefit of hindsight at the greatest war in history and to point to errors and confusion. They were inevitable, for war is conducted by men and men are fallible. A historian’s judgments, moreover, are something like those of a global Monday morning quarterback. Yet if we are ever to learn from our mistakes we must identify them.
The major American wartime errors were all part and parcel of our political immaturity. We fought to win, period. We did not remember that wars are merely an extension of politics by other means; that wars have objectives; that wars without objectives represent particularly senseless slaughters; that unless a nation is to engage in an unlimited holocaust those objectives must be attainable by the available strength and are limited by the victor’s capacity to enforce them and by the willingness of the vanquished state to accept them; and that the general objective of war is a more stable peace. We forgot that, in the words of Colonel the Honorable E. H. Wyndham, “the unity of outlook between allies in war never extends to the subsequent discussion of peace terms. We forgot that “while the attainment of military objectives brings victory in war, it is the attainment of political objectives which wins the subsequent peace.” The United States, in other words, had no peace aims; we had only the vaguest kind of idea, expressed in the vaguest kind of general principles (the Atlantic Charter; the United Nations), of the kind of post-war world we wanted.
Our judgments were emotionally clouded by the perennial American hope for (he millennium, the Russian military accomplishments, the warm sense of comradeship with our allies which the common purpose of victory induced, and by the very singlemindedness of our military-industrial effort. Wartime propaganda added to illusion; all our enemies were knaves, all our allies friends and comrades — military victory our only purpose. We were, in other words, idealists but not pragmatists. W e embarked upon total war with all the zeal and energy and courage for which Americans are famous, but we fought to win; in the broader sense of an objective, we did not know what we were lighting for.
The political mistakes we made sprang, therefore, from the receptive soil of this immaturity, but they were fertilized, too, by a lack of knowledge or a lack of adequate interpretation of that knowledge. This was particularly true of our wartime relationship with Russia. Our policy was founded basically on four great and false premises certainly false in retrospect, and seen by some to be false at the time. These were:—
1. That the Politburo had abandoned (with the ostensible end of the Communist International) its policy of a world Communist revolution and was honestly interested in the maintenance of friendly relations with capitalist governments.
2. That “Joe" Stalin was a good fellow and that we could “get along with him.” This was primarily a personal Rooseveltian policy and was based in part upon the judgments formed by Roosevelt as a result of his direct and indirect contacts with Stalin during the war. This belief was shaken in the last months of Roosevelt’s life, partly by the Soviet stand on Poland.
3. That Russia might make a separate peace with Germany. hear of this dominated the waking thoughts of our politico-strategists throughout the early phase of the war. and some anticipated such an eventuality even after our landing in Normandy.
I. That Russian entry into the war against Japan was either (a) essential to victory, or (b) necessary to save thousands of American lives. Some of our military men clung to this concept even after the capture of the Marianas and Okinawa.
All these basic misconceptions except the second had one common denominator: lack of adequate knowledge about Russian strengths, purposes, and motivations and inadequate evaluation and interpretation of the knowledge we did possess.
THE second mistaken premise could not have been avoided by any amount of knowledge or by the best possible interpretation. The Presidential office with its vast powers can, under an executive who is so inclined, formulate a personal foreign policy. This is particularly true in wartime. President Roosevelt liked to transact business — even international business on a man-to-man basis; he depended heavily upon personal emissaries like Marry Hopkins and upon his own judgment, and was confident that his estimate of the other fellow was correct. “I just have a hunch,” William C. Bullitt quotes Roosevelt as telling him, “that Stalin . . . doesn’t want anything but security for his country, and I think that if I give him everything I possibly can and ask 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.”
It was in the character of the President to administer and to govern and to bargain on a “firstname” basis; he relied heavily upon his great persuasive powers and charm, as well as upon his political ego.
A graphic instance of this tendency toward snap decisions and casual dependence upon Stalin’s good intentions was provided at Teheran. At that conference, in late 1943, Roosevelt, in one of his tête-a-têtes with Stalin and Churchill, casuallv agreed, unknown to virtually all his advisers, that the Russians ought to have one third of the surrendered Italian Fleet. This agreement was put in the form of an oral promise and Stalin was not one to forget promises.
Our Navy and the British Navy, which were then trying to utilize the surrendered Italian ships — manned by their own crews — to best advantage in Mediterranean convoy and antisubmarine work, knew nothing of this agreement until Russian representatives in Washington asked early in 1944 when they could expect “their share of the Italian Fleet. Navy, State Department, and Joint Chiefs of Staff were dumbfounded. All our efforts had been directed toward enlisting Italian support in the war against Germany: assignment of one third of the Italian fleet to the Russians as spoils of war would have been a political bombshell which would have handicapped the war effort in the Mediterranean. Accordingly, and to repair the damages of a casual promise made cavalierly without benefit of advice, the Russians were persuaded to accept, in lieu of the Italian vessels, some American and British nien-of-war.
This is but one example of Roosevelt’s personalized foreign policy a foreign policy marked more, perhaps, by idealism and altruism than by realism. This Rooseveltian tendency toward international altruism, loo often unmoderated by practical politics, seems a strange manifestation in one who domestically was a pragmatic and consummate politician. But it must be remembered that the vision of a “brave new world" was strong in Roosevelt’s mind, and Ids optimistic nature and the great inner wellspring of his faith in man sometimes affected his judgment.
As William L. Banger notes, Roosevelt regarded Russia as the lesser of two evils, and he “shared an idea common at the time that the cult of world revolution was already receding in the minds of the Soviet leaders and they were becoming more and more engrossed in purely national problems.” As a result lie turned away from the only practical policy that should have governed our actions, opposition to all dictatorships and reliance upon the time-tested balance-of-power policy, to the chimera of so many Americans — a brave, new world.
The Presidential ego unavoidably became stronger in Roosevelt’s closing years. His great wartime power, the record of victory, the high esteem in which he was held by the world, and the weakness of the State Department all combined to reinforce the President’s tendency to depend upon himself.
One of our greatest weaknesses in the policy field during the war was the failure to equate, evaluate, and integrate military and political policy: There w as then no adequate government mechanism, save in the person of the President himself, for such integration.
Former Secretary of War Stimson points out in his book On Active Service that the formal organization of the Joint Chiefs of Staff had “a most salutary efleet [in the military field] on the President’s weakness for snap decisions; it thus offset a characteristic which might otherwise have been a serious handicap to bis basically sound strategic instincts.”But there was no political counterpart of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and even if there had been, it is difficult to conceive that such an organization could have tempered materially the personal views which Roosevelt formed about Stalin.
The other fallacious premises upon which our wartime Russian policy was based could, however, have been avoided. We became victims of our own propaganda: Russian aims were good and noble, Communism had changed its stripes. A study of Marxian literature and of the speeches and writings of its high apostles, Lenin and Stalin, coupled with the expert knowledge of numerous American specialists, should have convinced an unbiased mind that international Communism had not altered its ultimate aim; the wolf had merely donned a sheep’s skin. Had we recognized this — and all past, experience indicates we should have recognized it — our wartime alliance with Russia would have been understood for what it clearly was: a temporary marriage of expediency. In the same manner a careful study of strategical facts and available military information should have indicated clearly the impossibility, from flic Ixussian point of view of a separate peace with Germany. Such a peace could only have been bought in the opening years of the war by major territorial concessions on Russia’s part — concessions which might well have imperiled the Stalin regime, and which, in any case, would have left the Russo-German conflict in the category of “unfinished business. In the closing years of the war when Russia had everything to gain and nothing to lose by continuing the struggle to complete victory, a separate peace would have been politically ludicrous.
There is no doubt whatsoever that it would have been to the interest of Britain, the United Slates, and the world to have allowed — and indeed encouraged— the world’s two great dictatorships to fight each other to a frazzle. Such a struggle, with its resultant weakening of both Communism and Nazism, could only have aided in the establishment of a more stable peace. It would have placed the democracies in supreme power in the world, instead of elevating one totalitarianism at the expense of another and of the democracies.
The great opportunity of the democracies for establishing a stable peace came on June 22, 1941, when Germany invaded Russia, but we muffed the chance. Instead of aiding Russia with supplies and munitions, but not too much; instead of bombing and blockading Germany, but not too much. Britain—joined afler Pearl Harbor by the United States — went all out for “unconditional surrender.” We should, in other words, have occupied the bargaining posit ion during the war, vis-à-vis Russia. Russia was ihe invaded power; Russia, fighting a desperate battle on her own soil, was in a death grapple with Germany. We were not similarly threatened. Russia had to have our help; we did not, to the same extent, require hers. This misjudgment put us in the role at times a disgraceful role — of fearful suppliant and propitiating ally, anxious at nearly any cost to keep Russia fighting. As William C. Bullitt put it, “this topsy-turvy world turned upside down, Alice through the Looking Glass attitude toward the Soviet Union, which our government adopted in the latter part of 1941 was our first step down the road to our present danger.”
In retrospect, how stupid we were! A man being strangled 1o death struggles with all that’s in him; Russia could not quit.
In the same manner and for much the same reasons we reversed the policy we should have followed in the Pacific War. Instead of recognizing that Russia, at nearly all costs, would have to participate in that war if she was to serve her own interests, we “bribed" her to enter it. Port Arthur is written upon the Russian heart; Manchuria has been the locale of Russian expansionist ambitions for nearly a century. Russia had everything to gain and nothing to lose by entering the Pacific War, particularly in 1044 and 1045 when the power of Germany was broken and Japan w as beleaguered and in a strategically hopeless position. ^ ct again we begged and induced, though we, not Russia, occupied the commanding position. ^ e should have tried to keep Russia out of the war against Japan instead of inviting her entry.
Such were the mistakes of basic policy and principle— most of them stemming from a political immaturity and an international naivete — which influenced most of our wartime decisions and dominated the nature of the peace, They form the psychological background for many of the mistakes of detail here recounted. But a cautionary and qualifying caveat must immediately be entered. Some of these itemized errors were purely fortuitous, the illegitimate offspring of peculiar personalities or specialized circumstance; others were powerfully influenced by American humanitarianism — a desire to save lives; still others were military mistakes, with political connotations — what Bullitt has called “military imagination functioning in political ignorance.” But, regardless of their psychological origins, they have one thing in common: they were mistakes.
I AM not presenting here a comprehensive catalogue of error, nor am I concerned with tactical mistakes or with those military decisions which had no political consequence. I have selected a few of the broad and far-reaching errors which influenced the course of t ho war or a fleeted the peace.
UNCONDITIONAL SURRENDER CASABLANCA. The insistence on unconditional surrender was perhaps the biggest political mistake of the war. In the First World War, Wilson took care to distinguish between the Kaiser and the militaristic Junker class and the German people; in the Second, Stalin drew a clear line between Hitler and the Nazis, and the German people and even the German Army. The opportunity of driving a wedge between rulers and ruled, so clearly seized by Wilson and by Stalin, was muffed by Roosevelt and Churchill. Unconditional surrender was an open invitation to unconditional resistance; it discouraged opposition to Hitler, probably lengthened the war, cost us lives, and helped to lead to the present abortive peace.
This policy grew in part out of the need for a psychological war cry; in part it was intended, as William L. Langer points out, as a reassurance to “the Bolshevik leaders that there would be no compromise with Hitler and that the Allies would fight on to total victory.” The haunting fear that motivated so many of our actions during The war — the fear of a separate Russian peace with Germany — and Russia’s growing suspicions of the Western Allies because of their inability until that time (January, 1943) to open a “second front” on land in Western Europe dictated the famous declaration of Casablanca. It is noteworthy that Stalin was never associated with formulating “unconditional surrender” as a doctrine; he refused the invitation to the Casablanca conference and later specifically criticized this doctrine. Some historians point to the Four-Power declaration at Moscow in October, 1943, as an indication of Soviet acceptance of the unconditional surrender policy.
Actually, however, this is an oversimplified and inaccurate assessment of the Russian reaction. Prior to and after the Casablanca-Moscow conferences Stalin took peculiar care to differentiate between the unconditional surrender of Hitlerism and the unconditional surrender of Germany. Obviously the more complete the German defeat, the greater the extension of Russian power, but Stalin understood well the political advantages of strengthening the anti-Hitler opposition in Germany. In one pronouncement (November 6, 1942) he even promised that a German defeat would not mean the end of “all military force in Germany,” and the Soviets took active measures through the Free Germany Committee, the Union of German Officers, and the high-ranking Germans captured at Stalingrad and elsewhere (Field Marshal von Paulus, Major General Seydlitz, and others) to back up words with deeds and to build up an active opposition to Hitler.
“This ‘soft line’ was developed to Germany [by Russia] all through the Summer and Autumn of 1943,” Wallace Carroll, who did so much to form our psychological warfare policy during the war, comments. “. . . in November, Stalin challenged the use of the ‘hard line’ of unconditional surrender at the Teheran Conference.” Even as late as May, 1945, when Harry Hopkins was conferring with Stalin in Moscow, Stalin balked at unconditional surrender for Japan, since “if we stick to [it] . . . the Japs will not give up and we will have to destroy them as we did Germany.” President Roosevelt ignored these challenges to his “hard line” at Teheran, in December, 1943, after the conference, when he was asked by the British in Washington what he was going to do to meet Stalin’s objections, and again on later occasions.
Unconditional surrender was a policy of political bankruptcy which delayed our military objective — victory — and confirmed our lack of a reasoned program for peace. It cost us dearly in lives and time, and its essentially negative concept has handicapped the development, of a positive peace program. By endorsing the policy, we abandoned any pragmatic political aims; victory, as defined in these terms, could not possibly mean a more stable peace, for “unconditional surrender” meant, as Liddell Hart has noted, the “complete disappearance of any European balance. War to the bitter end was bound to make Russia ‘top dog’ on the Continent, to leave the countries of Western Europe gravely weakened and to destroy any buffer.”
INVASION OF WESTERN EUROPE — LOSS OF EASTERN EUROPE. The long wartime history of strategic differences between Britain and the United States started soon after Pearl Harbor. From then until just before the invasion of Southern France in August, 1944 — when the British finally failed in their last effort to persuade us to undertake a Balkan invasion — we steadily championed an invasion of Western Europe and the British consistently proposed an invasion of the “underbelly.”
The two differing strategic concepts were separated not only by geography and terrain but by centuries of experience. We sought only military victory, the quickest possible victory. The British looked toward the peace; victory to them had little meaning if it resulted in political losses. We saw in the British insistence upon Southern European “adventures” all sorts of malevolent motives; some of our brash young strategists even claimed the British did not want to fight.
It is true that Churchill and his advisers where concerned about saving lives; the blood bath of World War I had weakened Britain dangerously. Churchill was determined to avoid the holocaust of great casualties and long stalemate. As Stimson put it, “the shadows of Passchendaele and Dunkerque still hang too heavily over the imagination of the British.” It is also true that to Churchill, victim of the Dardanelles fiasco in World War I, the Balkans were a psychological magnet; victory there in World War II would justify t he ill-executed plans of World War I. The great war leader believed in “eccentric” strategy: the utilization of the Allies’ superior naval and air power to conduct attrition attacks against the enemy’s coastlines. The pattern of England’s strategy in the Napoleonic wars was in his mind.
These, perhaps, were contributory reasons behind the British strategy. But fundamentally the British evaluation was politico-military; we ignored the first part of that compound word. The British wanted to invade Southern Europe because its lands abut upon the Mediterranean and are contiguous to the Near East, important to Britain’s power position in the world. For centuries Britain had had major politico-economic interests in Greece, other Balkan states, and Turkey; for centuries her traditional policy had been to check the expansionism of Russia, to support Turkish control of the Dardanelles, to participate in Danubian riparian rights. In 1942 and 1943, with the Russians in deep retreat and the Germans almost at the Caspian, the British may not have foreseen 1944 and 1945, with the Russians entering the Balkans, but they perceived clearly the political importance of this area, and they saw that an invasion there would preserve it — in the best possible manner, by soldiers on the ground — against either Russian or German interests, and in so doing would safeguard the British “lifeline” through the Mediterranean. Thus the British believed Germany could be beaten and the peace won by a series of attritions in Northern Italy, in the Eastern Mediterranean, in Greece, in the Balkans, in Rumania and other satellite countries. They believed an invasion through the “soft underbelly would catch the German Army in the rear, would find a recruitment of strength from the doughty Slavs of the occupied countries, and would provide via the Danube a broad highway into Germany.
These proposals were advanced not only by the British generals, but chiefly and most vigorously by British statesmen — Churchill, Eden, and Smuts. Stimson noted their insistence, yet in his book On Active Service, after citing the factual history of our strategic divergences, he describes as “wholly erroneous’ the view that the British opposition to Overlord [invasion of Western France] was guided by a desire to block Soviet Russia by an invasion further east.
“Never in any of his [Stimson’s] long and frank discussions with the British leaders was any such argument advanced, and he saw no need whatever to assume any such grounds for the British position. Not only did the British have many good grounds to fear a cross-Channel undertaking, but Mr. Churchill had been for nearly thirty years a believer in what he called the ‘right hook.’ In 1943 he retained all his long-held strategic convictions, combined with a natural British concern for the Mediterranean theatre,” and in Stimson’s view that was all there was to it.
But there was more behind the British position than military logic, Stimson notwithstanding. It is true that the British in general, and except in their most intimate conversations with lower-level Americans than Stimson, utilized military rather than political arguments to bolster their case. But this was natural; Mr. Roosevelt at some of the conferences sided with the Russians rather than with Churchill. Moreover, many of our strategic discussions were three-cornered; the British could not very well utilize political arguments — the hope of blocking Russia — in conferences which Russian representatives attended; an effort had to be made to maintain the stability of the unnatural “Big Three” alliance that had been created. It must be remembered that during the latter part of the war it was Britain that filled the role the United States now occupies, of chief protagonist vis-a-vis Russia, in the battle for Europe. Roosevelt was the “mediator,” Stalin and Churchill the polite but definite antagonists of the conference tables.
Thus, soon after we entered the war, the British proposed Operation Gymnast (later called SuperGymnast and finally Torch) — an invasion of North Africa, at Dakar, Casablanca, the Cape Verdes, or Oran. The original date mentioned was March, 1942! By January 2, 1942, when General Joseph W. St dwell, then slated to command Gymnast, attended one of his early conferences in Washington, the lines had been drawn: “Gerow, Somervell, Arnold, Clark, Chief of Staff, and I. All against it. Limeys claim Spain would ‘bitterly oppose’ Germans. What rot.”
The dispute roared on down the roads of time, exploding now and again at conferences — never settled, always recurrent. The British won the first round; they got the North African invasion, then Sicily and Italy. But they lost in the end; the growing military power of the United States and the selfassurance of our strategists — sound militarily but weak politically — overbalanced them.
FROM the time of our entry into the war, and even prior to it, our strategists — Eisenhower, Wedemeyer, Marshall, and Stimson particularly — advocated the defeat of Germany by an invasion of Western France. This proposal, as Stimson puts it, was the “brain child of the United Stales Army.”This invasion was to be timed for 1943; if necessary, to save the Russian front from utter collapse, a small diversionary landing was to be made in France in 1942. The British were distinctly lukewarm about the plan; Churchill was particularly horrified at the thought of the projected 1942 “sacrifice” landing, and from the beginning championed the invasion of North Africa. The President initially lent tacit support to the 1943 invasion and, if necessary, to the 1942 diversionary landing, but he was never fully persuaded, and in June, 1942, the whole subject was reopened.
Then, in a famous meeting at the White House, described by Martin Sommers in the Saturday Evening Post (February 8, 1947 — “Why Russia, Got the Drop on Us”), Churchill and the American strategists, with Wedemeyer as our spokesman, debated strategy. In this meeting Churchill was eloquent in favor of a “surge from the Mediterranean along the historic Belgrade-Warsaw axis”; Wedemeyer, without the benefit of the Churchillian rhetoric, spoke logically in favor of the 1943 cross-Channel operation. According to Sommers, “Churchill, because of his influence on President Roosevelt, won his fight to avoid a cross-Channel operation in 1943. He lost on his determination to force an offensive via Belgrade to Warsaw — to an extent because when the Russians heard about this plan, they raised shrill objections” (italics mine).
The President, moved in part by his impatience for action, in part by domestic political considerations, insisted upon some American operation in the European-North African theater in 1942; and, as Stimson puts it. Gymnast, the North African invasion, was the “President’s great secret baby.” The President’s insistence upon action, plus the course of events — the Russians in July, 1942, were fighting with their backs to the wall at Stalingrad and in the Caucasus — led to a conference in London in late July, 1942. At this conference, as Admiral Ernest J. King, wartime commander of the U.S. Fleet, puts it, “the British Chiefs of Staff were adamant in their view that the invasion of northern France [Sledgehammer] could not be undertaken. This view was initially opposed by the United States Chiefs of Staff and the United States Government. The conference decided, however, that invasion of French Northwest Africa could and should be undertaken. . . .”
At Casablanca in January, 1943, after the successful invasion of North Africa, the British — to the ill-concealed fury of our strategists — insisted that the cross-Channel operation tentatively scheduled for the spring of 1943 could not possibly be undertaken before the fall, if then.
In retrospect it is now obvious that our concept of invading Western Europe in 1942 was fantastic; our deficiencies in North Africa, which was a much needed training school for our troops, proved that. The British objection to a 1943 cross-Channel operation was also soundly taken militarily: we would have had in that year neither the trained divisions, the equipment, the planes, the experience, nor (particularly) the landing craft to have invaded the most strongly held pari of the Continent against an enemy whose strength was far greater than it was a year later.
Sicily inevitably led to an invasion of Italy, an operation envisaged first as a limited one against the heel and toe of the boot of the Italian peninsula, then later aimed at the seizure of air bases at Foggia, the quick capture of Rome, and the consequent political-psychological advantage. Churchill saw Italy and Sicily as bases for a jump eastward into the Balkans and he continued, with the aid of his military leaders, to push this project.
Admiral King points out that although the British specifically agreed to limit the Italian operations and the Mediterranean effort, “they nevertheless as time went on and succeeding conferences took place, continued to press more and more for operations in the Mediterranean and to oppose final and firm commitments for the cross-channel operation. Indeed at ANFA [Casablanca] a number of the British delegation were confident that Germany would accept defeat by January 1, 1944.”
But American strength had now been mobilized; Roosevelt was firm for Overlord (formerly called Roundup), the invasion of Normandy, and the British were forced to agree at Quebec in August, 1943, that Overlord should have the “inside track.” While planning and preparations for the crossChannel operation in late spring of 1944 were being made, the indefatigable “R.M.” — never one to surrender easily once he had sunk his teeth into an argument—tried in various ways to modify or postpone Overlord, or at least to parallel it. by an invasion of the Balkans. He was persistent, and insistent, and so were his advisers. Churchill returned to the charge at the Moscow Conference of Foreign Ministers in October, and at Cairo on November 24 he made a long and eloquent talk to the American and British staff and to Roosevelt about the advantages of operations in the Aegean Sea and against the island of Rhodes.
At Teheran in late 1943 the British again advocated the Balkan invasion, but Roosevelt, stressing the geographical advantages of the cross-Channel assault and the terrain difficulties of the Balkans, said that only an invasion of Western France could be considered, from the Russian point of view, a “second front.” Stalin naturally sided with Roosevelt; indeed, the two “got along” not only at Teheran but at Yalta. The personality of each attracted the other; the language barrier helped rather than handicapped the process; Stalin’s flattery, but not Stalin’s subtle manipulations, reached the President. And so it was that on November 30, 1943, the invasion of Normandy was finally decided at Teheran, and Stalin, strongly supported the Southern France invasion, rather than a trans-Adriatic operation into the Balkans, which was mentioned by Roosevelt and backed strongly by Churchill.
Major General John R. Deane in his book The Strange Alliance says of Teheran: “Stalin appeared to know exactly what he wanted at the Conference. This was also true of Churchill, but not so of Roosevelt. This is not said as a reflection on our President, but bis apparent indecision was probably the direct result of our obscure foreign policy. President Roosevelt was thinking of winning the war; the others were thinking of their relative positions when the war was won. Stalin wanted the Anglo-American forces in Western, not Southern Europe; Churchill thought our postwar position would be improved and British interests best served if the AngloAmericans as well as the Russians participated in the occupation of the Balkans’ (italics mine).
EVEN after the definitive decisions of Teheran, Churchill was not quite done; although the Normandy operation was now certain, a companion invasion of the Balkans might be possible.
In Italy the Allies had been halted in the tangled mountain country south of Rome; the Rapido ran red with blood. Churchill conceived, pushed, and all but executed an amphibious end run. Operation Shingle, the Anzio beachhead landing, was intended to expedite the taking of Rome. But Anzio, too, bogged down and major American energies were now concentrated on Overlord and Normandy.
Rome fell, and Normandy was invaded, and in the summer of 1944 — a summer of Allied triumphs, with the Russian armies still in Russia — Churchill made his final efforts to influence the future fate of the world. The British tried repeatedly to have the forces that were to be used in the invasion of Southern France committed instead to a cross-Adriatic operation — the objective a landing in the TriesteFiume area to take the German armies in Italy on the flank, a push through the Ljubljana gap into Austria, and a fanning out into the Austro-Hungarian plain with its ideal sites for air bases.
By then Churchill, as he has revealed in private discussions since the war, had no illusions about saving the Balkans from Russian domination; he knew possession, in the Russian lexicon, was nine tenths of the law, but he did hope that Central Europe could be liberated first by the Western Allies. At a meeting at the headquarters of Field Marshal Sir Henry Maitland Wilson, British supreme commander in the Mediterranean, General Marshall tried to sound out the British and American Mediterranean commanders about the project, which in view of strong British backing was assuming formidable dimensions. General Ira Eaker, then commanding the Mediterranean Air Forces, had not been briefed about General Marshall’s antipathy for what he considered an unsound (militarily) diversion, and when asked his opinion in the meeting Eaker said that from the air point of view it would be easier to support a trans-Adriatic operation than the invasion of Southern France. The bases, he pointed out, already had been established in Italy and our planes could operate in support of the Trieste move from these bases. But the Southern France operation would have to be supported from new bases in Corsica.
After the meeting was over, General Marshall commented wryly and somewhat bitterly to General Laker: “You’ve been too damned long with the British.”
In furtherance of their final effort to put Allied troops into Central Europe before the Red Armies occupied those countries, the British “worked” on General Mark W. Clark, then commanding our army in Italy. The King of England, on a visit to the Italian front in July, 1944, about a month before the Southern France invasion, is said to have suggested to Clark the advantages of such a Balkan operation and reportedly tried to enlist his support of the project with the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
General Clark, in a letter to me dated October 15, 1948, recalls the King’s visit “when we were approaching the Apennines,” but adds: “I do not recall that he discussed with me the advisability of pushing our principal effort into the Balkans.
It was common knowledge that the British were desirous of carrying tire war into the Balkans. This subject was discussed with me on several occasions by various Britishers in high places, commencing early in 1944. I recall General Alexander [later Field Marshal Viscount Alexander, then in command of all land forces in Italy] presenting his views on this subject. . . . I must say that I agreed with the wisdom of pushing our main effort to the East rather than continue to buck straight ahead against the mountains and the overwhelming resistance of the Germans. To have taken advantage of Tito’s situation with the opportunity of landing a part of our forces across the Adriatic, behind protected beachheads which Tito could have provided, with the bulk of our forces in Italy attacking through the Ljubljana Gap would, if successful, have placed the Western Allies in a much stronger position at the end of the war to meet the everincreasing challenge of Soviet world domination.”
In all these discussions of a trans-Adriatic operation, the Ljubljana gap and the Istrian peninsula were usually favored, but landings further south along the Dalmatian coast near Zara or Split were also mentioned. The British were persistent; the project was pushed even as late as September, 1944, after the forces that invaded Southern France had formed a junction with Patton’s rampaging army that had broken out of the Normandy beachhead.
Much has been made, since the war, of the strategic importance of the Southern France invasion; without it, it has been said, most of the German forces south of Brittany would have escaped. But we now know that most of the German forces did escape. The Southern France invasion was originally timed to coincide with the invasion of Normandy in June, 1944, and simultaneous invasions in West and South would have divided the German forces in France. But lack of landing craft forced a postponement of the Southern France operation until August 15, and we now know from German records that a Nazi withdrawal from France already had started even before the Anvil-Dragoon (Southern France) landings. Many German troops were cut up and captured by the junction of Patton’s forces with those that landed on the Cote d’Azur, but many of the enemy combat units completed successfully their withdrawal to the German frontier. Much of the strategic meaning of the Southern France invasion undoubtedly was lost when the two-month postponement became necessary; when this decision was reached, the arguments for the trans-Adriatic invasion became overwhelming.
Despite these arguments it was not to be; the British, notwithstanding the great eloquence of Churchill and the reasoned logic of his staff, had failed; the American strategy — heartily endorsed by the Russians — was the pattern of conquest. It was, of course, a successful pattern, for it was a sound plan militarily and it led to unconditional surrender. But it also led to the domination of Eastern and Central Europe by Russia and to the post-war upset in the European balance of power which has been so obvious since the war.
American strategy was not, of course, the only factor in this political defeat. Churchill made his share of mistakes. His — and our — abandonment of Mikhailovitch in Yugoslavia and his endorsement of Tito (formalized at, Teheran), whom he thought he could control with British gold; and the tacit acceptance of Russia’s claims to Poland’s eastern territories and the division of Europe into spheres of influence, with predominant control in the Balkans — except for Greece and Yugoslavia — allotted to Russia, also contributed to our loss of the peace. The latter was a particularly heinous mistake. Churchill was its principal architect, He recognized — apparently as early as 1942 — Russia’s “predominant interest” in Eastern Europe. Secretary Hull opposed this concept but the President, without Hull’s knowledge, agreed to the initial arrangement. Further agreements between London and Moscow in 1944, coupled until the concentration of Western military strength in France, instead of Southern Europe, further fortified the Russian position.
But the dominant factor in the political complexion of Europe after the war was the presence of Red Army soldiers in all the countries east, of the hrieste-Stettin line. The eruption of the Russians into the Danube basin gave them control over one of Europe’s greatest waterways, access to Central Europe’s granaries and great cities, and a strategical position of tremendous power at the center of Europe.
All of this Churchill and the British had clearly foreseen; none of this, so far as the record goes, did we foresee. \et, so great was our physical strength, so impeccable our military logic, that rationalization triumphed over foresight. Today the principal architects of our policy understand their mistakes; many of the great military figures of the war admit freely that the British were right and we were wrong. For we forgot that all wars have objectives and all victories conditions; we forgot that winning the peace is fully as important as winning the war; we forgot that politico-military is a compound word.
LOSS OF CENTRAL EUROPE. Our post-war difficulties and defeats in Central Europe — notably in Berlin and Vienna and Czechoslovakia — are the fruit, of mistakes made during the war in discussions in Washington and London, Quebec and Yalta.
The Soviet ground blockade of Berlin, which brought the United States so close to war with Russia in 1948, was possible only because the United States had no control over the communications to Berlin, and no precise written definition of our communication rights. The post-war Communist coup in Czechoslovakia was aided by Russian propaganda which pointed out that Prague had been liberated by Russian arms. In Austria, too, the Russians made good post-war political capital of their wartime accomplishments. These difficulties stem directly from our lack of politico-military realism during the war.
Our failure to define properly our right of access to Berlin has been placed publicly almost exclusively on the shoulders of a dead man — the late John G. Winant, wartime Ambassador to Britain, and the chief US. representative on the European Advisory Commission. This commission, composed of representatives of the United States, Great Britain, and Russia, commenced after the Teheran conference in December, 1943 (where Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin briefly discussed the subject of post-war Germany), to consider the German problem, including the problems of occupation and government, and the geographical limitations of the zones to be occupied by the various Allies.
Winant was a sincere idealist, who hoped for the “brave new world.” He was devoted to his country’s interests and to the welfare of man, but as an Ambassador he was somewhat vague and his administration was more distinguished for its impulsive warmth than its precision.
I am convinced that the blame for Berlin cannot be laid — exclusively, or even to a major degree — upon the shoulders of Winant. One who knew his work well in the European Advisory Commission has written that “Mr. Winant’s basic position was that our most difficult and dangerous post-war problem would be our relations [and Britain’s] with Russia; that it was important to secure as wide a measure of written agreement as possible during hostilities since our direct bargaining power would decline rapidly after the end of hostilities; that America was in the strongest position to press for such agreements; that the agreements should be so detailed and precise that the Russians could not quibble out of them; and that we must deal frankly and fully with the Russians. . . . Mr. Winant was neither ‘a trusting souk’ nor an ‘appeaser.”
The truth is that the old and dangerous dichotomy between foreign and military policies seems to have been, in large part, responsible for the lack of definition of a Berlin approach corridor. Winant and the U.S. delegation to the European Advisory Commission did not really make policy; they had a certain amount of freedom and initiative, but all major instructions were the product of Washington and emanated primarily from the President and the Secretaries of War and State.
When the European Advisory Commission was meeting in its first months of life, in December, 1943, and January, 1944, the State Department proposed in Washington that the three zones of post-war occupation in Germany (France had not then been included as an occupying power) be so drawn as to bring each into contact with Berlin. For some reason that defies logical understanding now, the War Department rejected this suggestion, which would have solved nearly all our postwar Berlin difficulties, so that it was never even broached in the EAC. In February, 1944, the British informally suggested that a “corridor to Berlin be established and defined, but the War Department again objected, staling that this was not a subject for the European Advisory Commission and that the entire question of access to Berlin was “a military matter" which should be settled at the proper time by military representatives.
This eventually was the solution, but the military representatives made a botch of it. In May, 1945, our armies stood deep on German soil. The zonal occupation agreements for Germany, worked out by the EAC, approved at the Quebec conference, and modified at Yalta (to include France), placed Berlin in the Russian zone; the British and U.S. zonal boundaries — contrary to the original recommendation of the State Department - lay 100 miles to the west. In May, 1945, EAC’s work was done, and SHAEF was briefed as to its accomplishments.
The SHAEF representative inquired about access to Berlin and was told by the European Advisory Commission that this problem had been left to the military at the War Department’s insistence, and that with U.S. troops already lighting in what eventually was scheduled to become part of the Russian zone of occupation of Germany, the whole question of withdrawal of our troops from the Russian zone and access to Berlin ought to be taken up together. In other words, even as late as May, 1945, at the war’s end, we still had a bargaining point; we were in possession — by conquest—of large parts of Germany, including areas slated to be in the Russian zone; we could have conditioned our withdrawal upon acceptance by the Russians of a secure access corridor to our zone in Berlin. The SHAEF representative, in fact, was told that such a corridor agreement ought to include the establishment of our own guard with U.S. troops along the access road and railroad, establishment of vehicle repair and supply points, military telegraph and telephone, right to repair and maintain the road and railroads, and provision for definite alternative routes in case the named routes were not usable for any reason,
This advice was not heeded. The military themselves, after the German collapse, in an agreement of June, 1945, concluded an arrangement which was so general and imprecise as to be productive of future trouble. General Lucius D. Clay has assumed responsibility for the terms of this agreement, and he must bear part of this burden, but he atone is not responsible. 1 he advice he received was none too good; the dangerous breach between State and War still existed, and Eisenhower, Clay, and their advisers negotiated against the background of 1 be psychological delusion then so prevalent in our government —that the Russians were our political as well as military “buddies,”and that we could “get along” with Stalin. But basically and fundamentally the responsibility for the Berlin corridor fiasco rests with the War Department in Washington. At the time the European Advisory Commission was conducting negotiations, the War Department —working with a weak State Department— had the bit in its teeth and assumed a mantle il had neither competence nor right to wear: the mantle of divine political wisdom.
In retrospect, it seems probable that the War Department’s triumph in this interdepartment struggle for power in Washington was foreordained. The War Department’s senior personnel were stronger and more able men; they had behind them, in war, the great force of public backing.
It was thus largely on the basis of “faith faith not alone in the Russians but military faith in the military interpretation of political problems— that the Berlin corridor agreement was drawn up.
IN March and April, 1945, as the war against Germany was drawing to an end, Eastern Europe had gone irretrievably; our earlier failure to invade the Balkans had cost us dearly. But important parts of Central Europe—Berlin, the Bohemian bastion and Prague, and possibly Vienna — were still at stake.
As early as March 28, with the Allied armies on the Rhine 300 miles from Berlin and the Russians on the Oder 30 miles from Berlin, General Eisenhower sent a personal message to Stalin via the US. Military Mission in Moscow. This message outlined his plans for a strong push in the center by General Omar Bradley’s American forces to a junction with the Russians on the Elbe, to be followed by flank drives by the British in the north to cut off the Danish peninsula and seize the North German ports, and by the Americans and French in the south into Austria to eliminate the possibility of a last-ditch stand by the Nazis in the socalled “National Redoubt.”Churchill protested this communication by Eisenhower to Stalin as an intrusion by the1 military into political matters, and was vehemently critical of the plan; in Eisenhower’s words, “he was greatly disappointed and disturbed because my plan did not first throw Montgomery forward with all the strength I could give him from the American forces in the desperate attempt to capture Berlin before the Russians could do so.’' But Churchill’s protest to Washington was overruled.
Eisenhower’s defense against this protest has some merits. There is no doubt that he was perfectly within his rights in communicating his plans to Stalin; he had been previously authorized to do so. But his dismissal of the Berlin plan as militarily unwise, and his fear that an attempt to take the city would force diversion of forces from other parts of the front to that sole task — a “stupid" diversion -and his overemphasis upon the “National Redoubt" were, it is now clear, mistaken. Intelligence failures again played a part in this mistake. The “National Redoubt” (fortifications and supplies supposed to have been prepared by the Nazi SS formations in the German-Austrian Alps for a last stand) was grossly overrated in our estimates; we learned later that relatively little work on the “Redoubt” had been done; the scheme was more an idea than an accomplishment. Churchill, in other words, again emerges in the Berlin matter a wily old fox of international politics; his vision was not obscured by the needs of the moment.
Our troops after crossing the Rhine swept eastward with relatively little opposition. Agreements had been reached with the Russians that when contact between the two armies seemed imminent, a line of demarcation should be arranged beyond which each army should not move. This boundary was “temporarily fixed” — in the words of General Eisenhower’s final report — “in the central sector” along the easily identified line of the Elbe and Mulde Rivers; the Russians were so notified in Eisenhower’s message to Stalin of March 28 (which evoked the Churchill protest). By April 12, the first American bridgehead across the Elbe had been established; we were 100 miles from Berlin and the Russians, 30 miles from that city on the Oder, were just starting their final offensive. It was not until April 25 that the Russians reached the Elbe; in other words, for about three weeks our forces remained virtually static on that line of demarcation, and not until early May was the Russian battle for Berlin finally won.
Further south our troops moved into Czechoslovakia on April IS, and then on to Pilsen. Prague lay virtually defenseless near at hand; reconnaissance elements of the Third Army were in its outskirts. The Soviet High ( command, when informed by General Eisenhower that our troops would move on toward Prague if (in former Secretary of State Byrnes’s words) “the situation required it,”requested that our forces “should not advance beyond the Budejovice-Pilsen-Karlsbad line.” So again our troops marked time, and the political prestige of taking Prague went to the Russians.
So, too, in the south, where the agreed demarcation line ran down the Budejovice-Linz railroad and along the valley of the Enns, Vienna, a possible prize, was voluntarily relinquished.
There was some military reason for this restraint. Two armies surging forward toward each other - a desperate enemy in between are difficult to control; Eisenhower was concerned about accidental collisions. Moreover, it would not have been easy for us to take Berlin first. The Russians were only .‘30 miles from that, city when we were 100 miles away on the Elbe. Furthermore, General Omar N. Bradley had estimated that though we could take the city, it would be at the cost of perhaps 100,000 casualties. Our troops had been moving fast and hard; the supply problem was difficult —and in any case the Western Allies had advanced far beyond the zonal boundaries agreed upon by the Allied governments and further advance would only have meant eventual evacuation of additional territory east of the Elbe.
Eisenhower felt moreover (in his own words in his final report) that “Berlin no longer represented a military objective of major importance” and that “military factors, when the enemy was on the brink of final defeat, were more important . . . than the political considerations involved in an Allied capture of the capital.”
Both political and military decisions, therefore, hailed our armies along the Elbe, the Mulde, and the Enns in the closing days of the Third Reich. There were military reasons, which seemed good at the time, for not pressing the advance to the utmost, but they were not decisive. The boundaries marked out by the European Advisory Commission and approved at Quebec and Yalta colored the thinking of our commanders. We could have moved further eastward. But the political die had been cast; there was not much point in military sacrifice for a political lost cause.
The effect of all these decisions was to make Berlin an island in a Russian sea, and to give Soviet troops firm control of Central Europe.
(To be concluded)