Europe in 1945

Europe by the summer of 1945 was very different to the Europe that had started out on war in September 1939. The Allies (USA, Britain and France) had started to fall out with Stalin’s Russia during the war itself. Stalin had wanted the Allies to start a second front in 1943. This, the Allies claimed, was not possible. Stalin got it into his mind that the Allies were deliberately allowing Russia to take on the might of two-thirds of the Wehrmacht in eastern Europe. Such a military campaign, he believed, would leave the USSR so weakened once the war was over that the Allies would have major military superiority over Russia almost immediately hostilities ceased.

This distrust also came out in the meetings that were held during the war. At Casablanca, Yalta and Potsdam, the one thing that clearly united the Allies and Russia was a common enemy – Nazi Germany. Little else did unite them. In fact, Stalin was not invited to Casablanca which increased his belief that the Allies were planning things behind his back. The Casablanca meeting only concerned the western front, so there was no need to invite Stalin. However, Stalin interpreted this differently.

The three war leaders – Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin – did meet at Yalta in February 1945. They agreed on the following:

The people freed from Nazi rule in Europe should be allowed to set up their own democratic and independent governments. Germany should be divided into four zones at the end of the war. USA, USSR, GB and France would occupy one zone each. Berlin would also be divided into four sections for the Allies. Half the $20 billions that would be collected from Germany as reparations would go to Russia. The eastern part of Poland would go to Russia so that Russia could build up her defences. Land would be taken from eastern Germany and given to Poland in compensation. Russian forces would be used against Japan in the Far East. A United Nations would be set up to promote world peace.

A key issue at Yalta was how to treat those nations that had been under Nazi occupation. It became clear to the Allies, that Stalin’s idea of free and democratic governments was different to theirs. In Stalin’s mind a free and democratic government should be subordinate to Moscow and have pro-Russian people in power so that those nations should do as Moscow wished. There was little that the Allies could do as the huge Red Army advanced west across eastern Europe towards Berlin. By 1945, the Red Army was a well equipped and well lead army and getting very used to victory.

By May 1945, the month of Nazi Germany’s surrender, the Red Army and therefore Moscow, effectively controlled the bulk of eastern Europe. Initially, the people of Roumania, Bulgaria and Hungary saw the Red Army as their liberators. But the murder of anti-Moscow politicians soon tainted their new found freedom. The death of Roosevelt lead to Harry Truman becoming American president. He was far less sympathetic to Russia than Roosevelt had been. He was also president of a country armed with a new and fearsome weapon – the atomic bomb.

After the Nazi surrender, the Allies and Russia met at Potsdam, a suburb of Berlin. They discussed what to do with the newly surrendered Germany. Half-way through the conference, Winston Churchill was replaced with the new British prime minister Clement Atlee, the leader of the Labour Party. Despite the celebrations of victory, a number of issues were not fully addressed at Potsdam. There was a failure to re-confirm the promise made at Yalta – of free and independent elections in eastern Europe. The new border between Poland and Germany was also missed out.

Stalin was also told at Potsdam about America’s new weapon. However, very little information was given to him. When the atomic bombs were used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it became clear to Stalin that Russia was years behind America in terms of modern weaponry. Though the Red Army was huge, its tanks some of the most modern in the world and its air force as good as any, this new weapon made all this conventional power of less value.

By the end of 1945, the seeds of the Cold War had been well and truly sown. Both sides were no longer linked by a common enemy. One side had massive conventional forces while the other had an unknown number of atomic bombs which could be used against Moscow – as Stalin knew.

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