• Well the election result shocked everyone. 
  • And the rest of the contingent at Potsdam weren’t very happy about it either. 
  • We might think that the Soviets would be please to be dealing with a British government made up of socialists. 
  • But that wasn’t the case. 
  • Stalin didn’t like Attlee or the British Labour Party. 
  • Despite Churchill’s attempts during the election to paint Labour as pro-Soviet, neither Attlee nor Stalin saw themselves as fellow travellers. 
  • To the Labour Party, Soviet-style economic models were horrible.
  • To the Soviets, the Labour Party seemed no less capitalist or imperialist than the Tories. 
  • Far better, in Stalin’s mind, to deal with the Churchill devil he knew rather than the Attlee devil he most certainly did not.
  • Attlee wrote: “I knew from experience,” he wrote, “that the communists had always fought us more vigorously than the Tories because they thought we offered a viable alternative to communism. They regarded the Tories as advocates of a dying cause while they thought we were a rival”
  • The British of course were horrified. 
  • Cadogan called Churchill’s defeat “a display of base ingratitude” on the part of the British people and “rather humiliating for our country.” 
  • Field Marshal Alan Brooke saw the timing of the election itself as another in a long line of Churchill’s mistakes in domestic politics, and one with potentially catastrophic repercussions. 
  • “What a ghastly mistake to start elections at this point of the world’s history!” he wrote in his diary that night, “May God forgive England for it.” 
  • Brooke blamed Churchill personally, saying, “If only Winston had followed any advice, he would have been in at any rate till the end of the year!” 
  • Instead, Brooke noted, Churchill had counted on his personality to carry the election, just as he had counted on his personality to win over Truman and Stalin. 
  • Tragically, he had failed at both.
  • Some tried to tell Churchill that the British people had not rejected him personally, but the Conservative Party in general. 
  • The data, however, tell a different story. 
  • The Tories actually performed worse in districts where Churchill himself had campaigned. 
  • Clearly, he had lost the faith of the British people even if he could not quite figure out why.
  • “It may well be a blessing in disguise,” Clementine told him. 
  • “At the moment,” he replied, “it seems quite effectively disguised.”
  • Attlee himself thought the result had more to do with the economic policies of the Tories in the 30s and the appeasement of Hitler – nothing Churchill could personally be blamed for. 
  • Churchill returned to No. 10 Downing Street for one last meeting as prime minister. 
  • He told Eden that he expected his own political career to be at an end, but that Eden would himself one day return to Downing Street as prime minister. 
  • Churchill appeared to Eden as “pretty wretched, poor old boy.” 
  • Losing the election, Churchill told Eden, was “like a wound which becomes more painful after the first shock.” 
  • The British government had even taken away his bodyguards, 
  • The American delegate Walter Brown observed that “the Empire he had saved did not think enough of him to keep a guard for a single night after he had been defeated.” 
  • Churchill drove down to Chequers for a final weekend at the country home of the prime minister, writing his name and “FINIS” in the guest book as his tenure as Britain’s wartime leader came to an end.
  • The end was pretty harsh: no one even asked Churchill to deliver an address to the nation when the Japanese surrendered in August. 
  • Churchill told Lord Moran that “it would have been better to have been killed in an aeroplane or to have died like Roosevelt.” 
  • When the king announced he was awarding the Order of the Garter to Eden, Eden replied that he could not accept it, given that the British people had just given him the Order of the Boot. 
  • Churchill and Eden may also have worried about the strategic situation they had bequeathed to their successors.
  • When Ernest Bevin told Eden that he would seek to become the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the new government, Eden shot back, “Whatever for? There will be nothing to do there except account for the money we have not got.” 
  • He then advised Bevin to seek the Foreign Office as, in Eden’s judgment, Bevin was the only Labour politician qualified for the job.
  • Which he did. 
  • Now Labour had only 48 hours to govern before the new PM and FM had to return to Potsdam. 
  • Attlee had time to make just six political appointments.
  • Several members of the outgoing government shared Churchill’s derisive view of the new prime minister. 
  • Cadogan remarked that with Attlee representing Britain, the Big Three would become the Big Two and a Half. 
  • He had also described Attlee’s villa in Babelsberg as a “drab and dreary little building. . . . very suitable—it’s just like Attlee himself.” 
  • But To help him along and help him deal with the transition, every member of the British delegation except Churchill and Eden returned to Potsdam with Attlee, underscoring the continuity in policy despite the changes at the top.
  • Truman, on the other hand, seems to have been happy to deal with a couple of guys who, like him, were new in the job. 
  • And they weren’t upper class pompous snobs like their predecessors. 
  • They were working class men like himself. 
  • And like Stalin. 
  • Truman and Attlee seemed to get along on a personal level, on one occasion sitting together at a piano to sing bawdy soldier songs that they remembered from their time as junior officers in World War I.
  • And unlike Churchill, Attlee wasn’t one for giving long winded speeches that lead nowhere. 
  • Maybe now they can get down to business. 
  • His feelings about Churchill were mixed. 
  • It was too bad about Churchill, he wrote to his mother and sister, but then he added that “it may turn out to be all right for the world,” suggesting that this way, without Churchill around, he might make better progress with Stalin.
  • The fundamental worldview and positions of Attlee and Bevin didn’t change much on matters of foreign policy from those of Churchill and Eden.
  • The British position was still where Churchill had left it – they were broke, a spent force, and desperately trying to figure out a path forwards. 
  • A Life magazine portrait of the new British prime minister described him as resembling a “harassed shopkeeper or an absent-minded professor.” 
  • It reported that even many in his own party had little faith in him or in Bevin, the new foreign minister, whom Life called “bulldogish, blustering, often boastful and egotistical.” 
  • Upon Attlee’s return to Potsdam, Stalin told Truman that “judging from the expression on Mr. Attlee’s face,” he didn’t seem too happy to be taking over the British government.
  • So what happened in the second session at Potsdam?
  • Let’s start with their decisions about the fate of Germany. 
  • GERMANY
  • One thing they did agree on was that the war crimes trials for the Nazis would be held in Nuremberg, home to the notorious Nazi rallies from 1923 to 1938.
  • The location was all about symbolism. 
  • One of the issues was how many people should be put on trial. 
  • Too many made it look like a brutal occupation by the victors who were out for revenge. 
  • And the Allies needed people – some of whom were Nazis – to run Germany’s industry after the war.
  • Too few and people with blood on their hands would walk free. 
  • The British, under Churchill and Eden, only had ten names on their list. 
  • Luftwaffe commander Hermann Goering; Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop; former deputy führer Rudolf Hess, who had been in British custody since his flight to the United Kingdom in May 1941; Robert Ley, who headed the Nazi labor organization Deutsche Arbeitsfront; Wilhelm Frick, the chief author of the Nuremberg Laws; Wilhelm Keitel, Hitler’s senior military adviser; Nazi ideologue Alfred Rosenberg; SS leader Ernst Kaltenbrunner; propagandist Julius Streicher; and Hans Frank, the Nazi governor of Poland.
  • Hitler, Himmler, Wilhelm Burgdorf, Hans Krebs and Goebbels of course were already dead from suicide. 
  • At least they hoped Hitler was. 
  • Stalin thought this list was WAY too small. 
  • And he wanted the British to send Hess to Russia for trial. 
  • He even offered to pay for it. 
  • Remember that back in 1941, Hess had flown to Scotland and ended up in prison. 
  • In the end, the British won the argument about keeping the numbers low – the total was 24 men. 
  • All but three received either the death sentence or a long prison sentence.
  • Give a shout out to Ulrich Hoxer who works at Nuremberg. 
  • We’ll cover the nuremberg trials in more detail later in the series. 
  • Suffice to say that it was a milestone in the treatment of war crimes on the international stage. 
  • But then there was the issue of reparations. 
  • You might recall that the decision they came to at Yalta was a final figure of $20 billion, with half of that going to the Soviets. 
  • At Potsdam, the Americans reneged on the deal. 
  • Byrnes argued that, since Yalta, more than 4 million Germans had fled to the West (almost 800,000 of them to the Western-controlled zones of Berlin), increasing the immediate costs of the occupation to the Americans alone by $1.5 billion. 
  • He said he could not support any reparations plan harsh enough to force onto American taxpayers the burden of feeding so many Germans.
  • Instead it was decided that each country would take whatever reparations it could from its own zone of occupation. 
  • The Americans and the British could reduce or even waive reparations payments, thereby relieving the United States of some of the burden of paying to feed Germany by keeping German resources in Germany. 
  • By allowing the Soviet plunder of eastern Germany, they could protect against Soviet claims for shares of the valuable western factories and mines upon which Germany would base its economic recovery, given that 81 percent of German coal and 86 percent of German steel production sat in the western zones.
  • Of course, as we’ve explained before, the Americans had no real need for reparations. 
  • Their economy was booming as a result of military Keynesianism.
  • The British economy was screwed, but they intended to recover, in part, by exporting products to Germany. 
  • The Soviets had taken the brunt of the war, and their economy had been screwed to start with, so they needed to extract as much as they could. 
  • The Americans also knew that the Russians had already seized scientific data relating to the V-1 and V-2 rocket programs, all scientific material from German military laboratories, and what remained of the scientific research plants of the Berlin area’s universities and institutes.
  • The Allies issued a statement of aims of their occupation of Germany: demilitarization, denazification, democratization, decentralization, dismantling and decartelization.
  • The Six D’s
  • POLAND
  • BETWEEN THE TIME of the Yalta Conference in February and the Potsdam Conference in July, the Soviets tightened their control over Poland.
  • But Byrnes and others saw little that the United States could do to correct these problems without risking a major confrontation with the Soviets.
  • And as we’ve seen before, the Western allies had already agreed in principle to the Soviet position on the new Polish government, made up mostly of the pro-Soviet Lublin Poles, with a few hand-picked London Poles for good optics. 
  • What Admiral Leahy called “an external appearance of [Polish] independence.”
  • The Soviets, from Stalin on down, saw Poland as nonnegotiable and would not reopen questions at Potsdam that they believed the Big Three had already settled at Yalta. 
  • As Stalin told Hopkins when they met in May – if not for the Red Army’s “great loss of life” in liberating Poland, “nobody would be talking about a new Poland,” in 1945 or ever.
  • Secretary of War Henry Stimson argued that the Americans should not make an issue of Poland, because “the Russians, with their possession, have 99 and 44/100 percent of the law.”
  • Accordingly, both Truman and Churchill displayed an unwillingness to make Poland a major issue at Potsdam.
  • Truman gave the London-based Poles just twenty-five minutes of his time at Potsdam, most of it dedicated to introductions and protocol. 
  • Churchill refused to meet with them at all. 
  • “I am sick of the bloody Poles,” the prime minister thundered. “I don’t want to see them.”
  • By the time of Potsdam, the Russians had transferred control of all the territory between the Curzon Line and the Oder-Neisse River Line to the new Polish government. 
  • With blazing speed, German-language newspapers disappeared, Polish flags flew over public buildings, signs changed from German to Polish place names (Stettin to Szczecin, and Breslau to Wrocław, for example), and Poles took possession of formerly German homes. 
  • The Russians then announced that because this territory now fell under Polish control, it was exempt from any reparations the Allies might demand of Germany. 
  • The wealth of Silesia’s coalfields would therefore go into the coffers of the new Polish government, or through them to the Soviet Union, instead of indirectly to the British or the Americans via reparations.
  • So that just left Japan. 

HOW TO LISTEN

If you’re already a subscriber, you can listen to the full show in the player below or subscribe through iTunes or any podcast player.

If you haven’t heard any of the series and want to know if you’ll like it before you sign up, you can listen to the first six episodes totally free. You might want to start with Episode 1, unless of course you’re an old school George Lucas fan, in which case feel free to start at Episode IV. We don’t recommend it though.

Sign Up or Login to listen to our premium episodes

If you haven’t already, join our Facebook page and you’ll be in the running to win prizes in our regular “Share The Love” and other competitions.

If you’d like a chance to win a prize, write a funny or insightful review on iTunes.