My previous blog entitled ‘Taking Stock & Getting Real’, explains why I did not go into detail regarding WW2. The index of There Was a Time was, hopefully, enough to show that ‘blogging’ my way through it would have been tedious for both author and reader. It needs to be read as a dynamic account.
Montgomery accepting the surrender at Lüneburg Heath
The war in Europe ended in May 1945. Field Marshal Montgomery accepted the surrender of German forces in the north on May 2nd after US and USSR troops had met up a week earlier at the Elbe River and stopped there. Another ten days would elapse while the bloody Battle of Berlin raged before the ultimate surrender of all German forces took place on May 8th 1945. This was VE Day. The Western Allies had defined the boundary between East and West Germany 85 miles west of Berlin, which was under total occupation by Soviet forces.
The division of both Germany, and within it Berlin, was tense from the outset but the war was not over. Roosevelt and Stalin were talking of Russian support against Japan until B-29, Enola Gay, flew over Hiroshima. Days later, after Nagasaki, that issue was no longer on the table but the division of Berlin was.
Display of Russian Forces – 1945
The tense relationship between East and West boded ill for the future. The Soviet army was massive and it was gathering satellite states. East Germany, Poland and most of the Baltic and Balkan countries were claimed, puppet governments installed and their forces were brought into the Soviet war machine. It was imperative that West Germany was hastily rebuilt and brought into the Western camp as it would be the jumping off point if there had been a Soviet move.
Note: Wikipedia refers to the last two wartime summit meetings at Yalta and Potsdam as dialogues between Stalin and Roosevelt with Prime Ministers Winston Churchill and finally Clement Attlee “in attendance”. I would dispute that assessment, despite the polarisation which was clearly developing. Britain’s support to both allies was crucial both militarily and logistically. Without the Arctic convoys taking war materiel to Russia, the USSR would have been painfully short of equipment to match that of Germany in the year or more following Operation Barbarossa. But for Britain’s containment of Hitler’s ambitions from 1939 to mid 1941 and its reduction of his Luftwaffe, Soviet Russia would have felt a much heavier blow considerably earlier and probably at a more propitious time of year. (Author’s indignation!).
Stalin raised the stakes when he ordered that East German agriculture would not supply produce to West Berlin. The old capital was now isolated in the German Democratic Republic (GDR). West Germany became the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG). The Russian/East German authorities also began to harass road and rail traffic from the FRG to Berlin, a move to starve out the people of West Berlin. This drastic move called for a suitably drastic response, in which British and American transport aircraft flew thousands of tons of coal and foodstuffs round the clock into Berlin for almost a year, down allocated air corridors and eventually fully matched the needs of the population. This was the Berlin Airlift. The Communists finally allowed normal commercial links to re-open, realising that their tactic had failed.
Tattered group of Berliners standing in ruins of building at the edge of Tempelhof Airfield, looking up at a C-47 cargo plane bringing them food during the Berlin airlift.
Winston Churchill’s speech at Fulton, Missouri, whilst a guest of President Harry Truman, spelled out loud and clear that the Soviet Union should, from then on, be considered a hostile force and that East and West were polarised; the latter should clearly recognise the potential for confrontation at any time. He had good credentials for assessing the malign intent of powerful military nations. Fortunately, following advance preparations and counter-strike capability, the so-called Cold War never became hot but it was a close run thing at times, notably the Gary Powers U-2 spy plane incident and the Cuban missile site crisis.