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Churchill and Poland


Winston's War: Churchill 1940-1945, by Max Hastings (New York: Knopf, 2010)

Max Hastings has a burr under his saddle when it comes to the U.S. Army in Europe, which can lead him to some rather hilarious conclusions about the parallel British and American campaigns from June 1944 onward. But in this study of Britain's warlord, he is just as hard on the soldierly qualities of the British Army. And he spares Churchill no lashes for his performance at Tehran and Yalta. I'm particularly interested here in his book as it relates to Poland. It's available at Amazon in paperback, in hardcover, and in a Kindle editon. Blue skies! -- Dan Ford

"The huge popularity of the Soviet Union in was a source of dismay, indeed exasperation, to the small number of people at the top who knew the truth about the barbarity of Stalin's regime, its implacable hostility to the West and its imperialistic designs on eastern Europe. (p6)

1941: "On August 25, British forces entered Persia [Iran] after the pro-Nazi shah's rejection of an ultimatum from London, demanding the expulsion of several hundred Germans from the country." (p139)

1942: "On March 6, Rangoon was abandoned. The next day, Churchill wrote to Roosevelt, urging that the Western Allies should concede to Russian demands for recognition of their 1941 frontiers.... The Americans demurred, but the prime minister's change of attitude reflected intensified awareness of the Western Allies' vulnerablity. He was now willing to adopt the most unwelcome expedients, if these might marginally strengthen Russia's resolve. Amid alarm that Stalin might be driven to parley with Hitler, eastern Poland became expendable." (pp206-207)

May 1942, after the U.S. Navy won the Battle of the Coral Sea: "Churchill changed his mind yet again about acceding to Russian demands for recognition of their territorial claims on Poland and the Baltic states. "We must remember that this is a bad thing," he told the Cabinet. "We oughtn't to do it, and I shan't be sorry if we don't." (p216)

"Membership in Britain's Communist Party rose from 12,000 in June 1941 to 56,000 by the end of 1942. The British media provided no hint of the frightful cruelties through which Stalin sustained the Soviet Union's defence, nor of the blunders and failures which characterized its war effort in 1941-42." (p246)

"It is implausible that Stalin would have displayed a sentimental enthusiasm for his British allies, any more so than for any other human beings in his universe. He would never have acknowledged that his nation's predicament was overwhelmingly the consequence of his own awesomely cynical indulgence of Hitler back in 1939. But Russia's sense of outraged victimhood was none the less real for being spurious." (p261)

August 1942 in Moscow: "Back in his villa forty-five minutes later, the prime minister found that the Polish general Wladyslaw Anders had been awaiting him for many hours. "Ah! My poor Anders," said Churchill. "I have been detained by M. Stalin and now I must fly off. But you come along to Cairo and we shall have a talk there." (p265)

"A Home Intelligence report of January 14, 1943, declared: 'At the time of Pearl Harbor, public interest in the US received a momentary stimulus which soon declined and (in marked contrast to the attitude to Russia and things Russian) remained low ever since.' When news of the Kasserine battle was released in Britain, Violet Bonham Carter recorded in her diary a friend's story of meeting a vegetable seller in Covent Garden who said: 'Good news today, sir!' 'Have the Russians done well?' 'No--the Americans have got the knock.'" (p299)

1943: "Anglo-Soviet relations were further soured by the Germans' April announcement of the discovery of thousands of bodies of Polish officers killed by the Soviets in 1939 at Katyn, near Smolensk. On April 15, Churchill told General Sikorski, the Poles' leader in Britain: 'Alas, the German revelations are probably true. The Bolsheviks can be very cruel.'... He urged Sikorski not to make much publicly of the story, to avoid provoking Moscow. Amid Polish rage, this warning went unheeded. The 'London Poles' publicly denounced the Russians, who promptly severed relations with them and announced the creation of their own puppet regime. Churchill warned Stalin sharply that Britain, in turn, would not recognize Moscow's Poles. Lines were now drawn. Moscow was bent upon a postwar settlement that brought Poland into a Soviet-dominated buffer zone. Churchill expended immense energy and political capital throughout the next two years in efforts to prevent such an outcome. Yet nothing could alter geography: Warsaw lay much closer to the armies of Stalin than to those of Churchill and Roosevelt." (p301)

At Tehran: "Cadogan recorded the distress of the British delegation when Roosevelt seemed willing to endorse almost everything Stalin proposed. When the future boundaries of Poland were discussed, Averell Harriman was dismayed by his president's visible indifference. Roosevelt wanted only enough to satisfy Polish-American voters.... Soviet eavesdroppers reported to Stalin Churchill's private warnings to Roosevelt about Moscow's preparations to instal a Communist government in Poland.... Roosevelt replied that since Churchill was atempting to do the same thing by installing an anti-Communist regime, he had no cause for complaint." (p350)

"Roosevelt, bent on creating a future in which the Great Powers acted in concert, seemed heedless of reality: that Stalin cared nothing for consensus, and was interested only in license for pursuing his own unilateral purposes." (p351)

"The British were especially dismayed that no attempt was made to oblige the Russians to recognize the legitmacy of the Polish exile government in London in return for Anglo-American acceptance of Poland's altered borders." (p352)

"The Polish exile government in London was obdurately opposed to changes in its frontiers--the shift of the entire country a step westward--which Churchill had reluctantly accepted. Its representatives persisted in proclaiming their anger toward Moscow about the Katyn massacres. What adherent of freedom and democracy could blame them? Yet so astonishing was the popularity of Russia in Britain that opinion surveys showed a decline in public enthusiasm for the Poles, because of their declared hostility to Russia.... It was plain to Churchill that the prospects of a free Poland were slender and shrinking.... In all probability, nothing within the power of the Western Allies would have saved Poland from Stalin's maw." (p359)

1944: "On July 31, with Soviet forces only fifteen miles away from the Vistula, the Polish Home Army in Warsaw launched its uprising. Through the agonizing weeks that followed, Churchill strove to gain access to Russian landing grounds to be used to dispatch arms to the Poles.... While the Americans were not indifferent, they seemed so both in London and in Moscow. The Red Army stood deep inside Poland, while Eisenhower's forces were far, far away." (p406)

"Through the autumn, the miseries of Poland provided a running theme, as the Nazis suppressed the Warsaw Uprising with familiary savagery. Not only Stalin, but also Roosevelt, resisted Churchill's impassioned pleas to press Moscow.... The Americans wanted Siberian bases for their B-29 bomber operations against Japan, and were unwilling to provoke the Russians about what they perceived as lesser matters." (p411)

1945: "The foremost business of Yalta, above all in Churchill's mind, was the future of Poland. Stalin wanted recognition of its new frontiers--the so-called Curzon Line in the east, the Oder-Neisse in the west. Churchill made plain that he was now less concerned with territory than with the democratic character of the new Polish govenment." He got no support from Roosevelt. (p446)

May 1945: "On the twenty-fourth, the prime minister instructed the Chiefs of Staff that, with the 'Russian bear sprawled over Europe,' they should consider the military possibilities of pushing the Red Army back eastwards.... They were told to assume the full support of British and American public opinion, and were invited to assume that they could 'count on the use of German manpower and what remains of German industrial capacity.' The target date for launching such an assault would be July 1, 1945." (p461)

The planners proposed that 47 Anglo-American divisions (14 armored) could be mustered, with 40 held back for defense and occupation duties, against the equivalent of 170 Russian divisions (30 armored). (p464)

Churchill also asked for a planning paper on British defense if the Americans withdrew their armies from Europe and the Russians advanced to the Channel. He wrote: Pray have a study made of how then we could defend our Island, assuming that France and the Low Countries were powerless to resist the Russian advance to the sea." (p465)

"The Unthinkable file was closed a few days later, when another cable arrived from Truman. He rejected the arguments for renouncing or even delaying Anglo-American withdrawal to the occupation zones agreed to at Yalta." (p465)

Look for Winston's War at Amazon.com.