Winter 1945 (Age 70)

Dividing the Balkans

Churchill was compelled to deal with some of the very people he had so opposed in 1919. By then the Soviet Union was needed to defeat Germany, and it would be the strongest land force in Europe after victory.

In October 1944 Churchill flew to Italy, where he met Alexander and Wilson, then to Cairo, then on to Moscow, where the ‘Tolstoy Conference” began. Churchill wanted to deal candidly with Stalin so he said, “Let us settle about our affairs in the Balkans.” While his comments to Stalin were being translated Churchill wrote on a half-sheet of paper- “Rumania: Russia 90%. The others 10%; Greece: Great Britain (in accord with USA) 90%, Russia 10%; Yugoslavia. 50-50%; Hungary: 50-50%; Bulgaria: Russia 75%. The others 25%.” Stalin took out his blue pencil and made a large tick upon it.

The greatest problem was the Polish situation, particularly the boundary between Poland and the Soviet Union and the relationship between the Polish Government and the Lublin Poles, whose leader Churchill characterized as “a kind of Quisling.” Churchill left Moscow without a settlement.

“Let us settle about our affairs in the Balkans.”

In a letter to President Roosevelt, Churchill made the following interesting comments on his discussions with Stalin: “We also discussed informally the future partition of Germany. U.J. wants Poland, Czecho, and Hungary to form a realm of independent, anti-Nazi, pro-Russian States, the first two of which might join together. Contrary to his previously expressed view, he would be glad to see Vienna the capital of a federation of South German States, including Austria, Bavaria, Wurttemberg and Baden. As you know, the idea of Vienna becoming the capital of a large Danubian federation has always been attractive to me, though I should prefer to add Hungary, to which U.J. is strongly opposed.’

Churchill’s next foreign excursion was to Paris for Armistice Day. Accompanied by his wife and his daughter, Mary, he stayed at the Quai d’Orsay. On 11 November he and deGaulle marched down the Champs Elysees and laid wreaths on the tomb of the Unknown Warrior at the Arc de Triomphe. After reviewing a march past by French and British troops, Churchill laid a wreath beneath the statue of Clemenceau, “who was much in my thoughts on this moving occasion.”

On his return to London Churchill reassured Roosevelt that, despite press reports about decisions made in Paris, “you may be sure that our discussions about important things took place solely on an ad referendum basis to the three Great Powers, and of course especially to you, who have by far the largest forces in France.” In a letter to Field Marshal Smuts, Churchill shared some of his frustrations at being the smaller partner. Commenting on the reverse in the Ardennes, he wrote: “I imagine some readjustments will be made giving back to Montgomery some of the scope taken from him after the victory he gained in Normandy. You must remember however that our Armies are only about one-half the size of the American and will soon be little more than one-third. All is friendly and loyal in the military sphere in spite of the disappointment sustained … [however] … it is not so easy as it used to be for me to get things done.”

Allied fortunes in the Mediterranean had always been a priority for Churchill and his attention was now focused on Greece and the Communist threat following the Nazi withdrawal. Roosevelt and Harry Hopkins warned him, however, that American public opinion might not support Allied intervention in a Greek civil war.

Deciding almost on the spur-of- the-moment to see the situation for himself, Churchill flew to Athens on Christmas Eve. On 26 December Churchill, Eden, Alexander and American and French representatives met with the warring parties in Athens. With the support of the Americans, Churchill was able to persuade the Greek King to make Archbishop Damaskinos the Regent without Communist participation in the Government.

When Churchill returned home he received the following message from Field Marshal Smuts: “A wholly distorted picture of the true position in Greece has unfortunately been painted by the Press … So that the world will see that Britain, as friend and ally, had no choice, a factual exposure should now be made of the bitter suffering inflicted on the Greek people.”

More fighting would ensue and suffering would occur but Greece would not go the way of the rest of the Balkans. Churchill wrote-. “When three million men were fighting on either side on the Western Front and vast American forms were deployed against Japan in the Pacific the spasms of Greece may seem petty, but nevertheless they stood at the nerve-centre of power, law and freedom in the Western World.”

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