The Yalta and Potsdam Conferences Yapoutchian

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Information about The Yalta and Potsdam Conferences Yapoutchian

Published on March 6, 2008

Author: Peppar



The Yalta and Potsdam Conferences :  The Yalta and Potsdam Conferences Contention and Cooperation amongst the Titans The start of Operation Barbarossa; the Wolf enters the Bear’s Den:  The start of Operation Barbarossa; the Wolf enters the Bear’s Den Invasion of the Soviet Union was not only inevitable, but imminent by June 1941. There was sufficient evidence, warnings, and leaks to confirm the fact that Hitler was planning a massive operation in the east, but despite the warnings and messages from his allies, German defectors, and his own spies (Richard Sorge operating in Tokyo) Stalin refused to acknowledge the threat of invasion and dismissed them all as an “elaborate provocation” (Nation 120). Stalin’s refusal to acknowledge the impending war, his purging of the Red Army Officer Corps between 1937-38 (Kennedy-Pipe 43), and the relative unpreparedness (for Blitzkrieg tactics), lack of training and experience of the Red Army, as well as possessing outdated vehicles, tanks and airplanes at the start of the war, all led to initial sweeping victories for the Nazi War Machine in the Soviet Union during the first few months of the war (Nation 118-19). The Red Bear awakens . . . eventually:  The Red Bear awakens . . . eventually When news of the invasion reached Stalin, he still firmly believed that disaster could be averted through negotiations, and he staunchly refused to allow artillery crews to open fire on the advancing Germans (Kitchen 78). When Stalin finally realized how critical the situation had become, he became traumatized and suffered a nervous breakdown: “The Dictator’s behaviour in the wake of the initial attack has been well documented. Gromyko recalls that Stalin was convinced that Hitler would honour the treaty. This view is reinforced by others, who also tell of Stalin’s shock and breakdown at the timing, if not the substance, of the German ‘betrayal’” (Kennedy-Pipe 49). It wasn’t until July 3rd that Stalin finally addressed the Soviet people of the current state of affairs resulting from Hitler’s treachery. His speech involved nationalist rhetoric, calling for the destruction of the fascist invaders, implementation of ‘scorched-earth’ policy, and the creation of a partisan unit to guard and defend the motherland; despite his temporary lapse and breakdown, Stalin had awakened and transformed into the national leader that the Russian people could empathize and appeal to, someone who could assure them of victory (Kitchen 79). Regardless of the initial success of Operation Barbarossa in the first few months of the invasion, it was ultimately a failure by the end of 1941: the Germans ground to a halt just outside the gates of Moscow by November of the same year, and despite the better judgment and wisdom of his experienced generals and officers, Hitler was against a blitzkrieg strike at Moscow, instead, he ordered all three armies to “advance simultaneously, giving priority to a breakthrough in the south” (Nation 127). The loss of initiative against Moscow, combined with the onset of winter, the arrival of Zhukov to organize and coordinate the defense of the Russian capitol, and the failure to get Japan involved in the war against the Soviet Union, made Operation Barbarossa a failure (Donaldson and Nogee 66). 1943: The Tide Turns:  1943: The Tide Turns By 1943 the war in the Eastern front had changed: The Red Army was more experienced, better equipped, and highly motivated to halt and crush the German invaders. The Battle of Stalingrad which ended with the surrender of the German Sixth army, and the first German field marshal of the war (Friedrich Paulus) on January 31st 1943, was the first turning point for the Red Army (Adair 32). However, while the destruction and surrender of the Sixth army was a severe loss, it was in no way a fatal blow to the Wehrmacht: as ‘Operation Citadel’ would show, the Germans were still capable of mounting large scale offensives across the vast Russian landscape (Adair 33). Approximately six months later, the Germans launched Operation Citadel to overwhelm the Kursk salient, and the largest ground battle in history began. Having received intelligence reports from allies, the Soviets were well prepared this time, and they entrenched themselves to meet the Germans head on: “The salient, an area about half the size of England, was stuffed with armour and infantry and awaited the next move” (Kitchen 239-40). On July 5th 1943, the 9th army and 4th Panzer division spearheaded the assault, thinking they could overwhelm the Soviet defenses with another blitzkrieg strike. Instead, they were met with fierce resistance in the form of tank traps, entrenched anti-tank infantry divisions, improved T-34 tanks, and Russian reserves ready to be called in for counter-attacks. After suffering countless setbacks, Op. Citadel was abandoned on July 13th, and the Wehrmacht suffered its most costly and severe defeat: “The Battle of Kursk, the ‘greatest tank battle of all time’, was an appalling bloodbath, veteran soldiers insisting that it was the most brutal engagement of the war . . . The decisive factor was that the Germans had been defeated at the game they knew best. Their elite armoured units, equipped with the latest Panzer models and manned by fresh troops, had been smashed, and the Soviets had finally won the strategic initiative. Kursk, not Stalingrad, was the turning point of the war on the Eastern Front (Kitchen 341). Operation Bagration; The Backbreaker:  Operation Bagration; The Backbreaker The Byelorussian offensive in the summer of 1944 was arguably the most important and decisive engagement of WWII (in the European theatre). Its success was a combination of strategic planning and the use of deceptive tactics (maskirovka) to fool the German High Command, and mask the real objectives and scale of the offensive that was to be brought to bear against Army Group Centre (Adair 58-60). “The Soviet success depended upon the secret deployment of three armies, 6th Guards and 28th on the north and south flanks, and 5th Guards Tank as the Stavka reserve. The defeat of Army Group Centre resulted in the destruction of about 30 divisions” (Adair 171). The actual number of casualties from both sides is still debated, and figures for Germany vary between 275,000 – 350,000 dead, and approximately 150,000 German prisoners of war. On the Soviet side, approximately 178,000 died in the offensive, which was roughly 8% of the forces involved in the engagement (Adair 171). Two senior German staff officers recognized the significance of the offensive, and commented that “the loss of Army Group Centre greatly accelerated the collapse of the German State” (Adair 171). With German forces effectively out of the Soviet Union, the Red Army pushed forward and kept the Germans on the defensive all the way to Berlin. The Yalta Conference: Feb. 4-11, 1945:  The Yalta Conference: Feb. 4-11, 1945 Meeting of the Big Three for discussion and cooperation over the future of Europe following the defeat of Nazi Germany. At the time of the conference, the Red Army was within 40 miles of Berlin, while the Allied forces in the west were recovering from the ‘Battle of the Bulge’ in the Ardennes. Roosevelt himself informed Stalin that Eisenhower did not intend to cross the Rhine until March (Kennedy-Pipe 69). Stalin actually made it clear to Zhukov that he wanted Berlin taken as quickly as possible in February; however, on February 6, Stalin cancelled the demand, having received assurances from Churchill and Roosevelt that the Soviet Union would be guaranteed its own occupation zone in Germany after the war (Kennedy-Pipe 72). The main concerns and points of interest throughout the Yalta conference can be broken down into three categories: The Polish Question The future of Germany and the “Declaration on Liberated Europe” The conditions for the entry of the Soviet Union into war with Japan The creation of the United Nations Organization was also discussed at the Yalta conference, but its importance was relatively low in comparison with the other three points, especially the future of Poland and Germany. Furthermore, the issue was generally agreed upon, with Stalin accepting the veto mechanism and reducing his demand of the number of general assembly seats for the Soviet Union from 15 to 3 (Nation 153). Yalta cont’d:  Yalta cont’d The issue of Poland was of crucial significance for all three powers. Poland was, after all, the reason why France and England declared war on Germany, and as such, it was a crucial point of interest between the two sides in the conference. Out of the eight meetings in the Yalta conference, seven of them involved the question of Poland, and four key aspects were discussed: A formula for establishing a single provisional government for Poland. How and when to hold free elections Possible solutions to the future of Poland’s frontiers, both in the east and the west Steps designed to safeguard the security of the Soviet rear (Petro and Rubinstein 48) Slide9:  Why was Poland such a significant point of conflict between the two sides? For Stalin, Poland was a vital security interest that would act as an essential buffer zone in the event of another invasion from the West. For Stalin and the Russian people, the Second World War had left a permanent scar on their outlook of life, especially considering the unprecedented figures and costs that the war had exacted on the Soviet Union (LaFeber 20). For Roosevelt, the future of Poland was a crucial factor for the future of Eastern and Central Europe, and Harriman (American ambassador to Russia) warned Roosevelt that “Stalin must not be allowed to establish “Totalitarianism” in Soviet-occupied territories,” and that unless they were willing to live in a Soviet-dominated world, they should do everything they can to economically assist states that were naturally friendly to them (LaFeber 17). Regarding Germany, the Big Three discussed the nature of how Germany should be dealt with after their unconditional surrender (which was agreed upon by all three heads) and how it would be partitioned to allow for a free and democratic Europe. Points of conflict were raised regarding the form of reparations that were to be paid out to the Soviet Union, and the inclusion of France into the partition system. Stalin was angered by the notion of France joining in the partition of Germany because of their poor performance in resisting and fighting Germany throughout the war. As for reparations, Stalin wanted to either destroy or relocate German industry to prevent them from dominating Europe in the future. He argued two points: that 80% of Germany’s industrial capacity should be dismantled, leaving the rest in control of the Allies; and that Germany would pay back the Soviet Union in reparations for the devastation that it caused during the war (Kennedy-Pipe 73). The Far East: the secret protocol:  The Far East: the secret protocol The American delegation was also concerned with the entrance of the Soviet Union into the war with Japan. Stalin agreed to enter the war against Japan under certain conditions: The preservation of the status quo in the Mongolian People’s Republic The return of lost territories and rights that Russia had lost to Japan after the war of 1904-5, namely the return of Southern Sakhalin and the annexation of the Kurile Islands The restoration of former Russian economic privileges in Manchuria The internationalization of the commercial port of Dairen and the lease of Port Arthur as a naval base of the Soviet Union restored (Petro and Rubinstein 49). Roosevelt, with the advice and influence from Admirals Nimitz and King, and Generals Marshall and McArthur, accepted the conditions under which Stalin proposed he would enter into war against Japan. The reasoning behind the need for Soviet entrance into the war was that it would take another eighteen months to defeat Japan after the defeat of Germany, and that the invasion of mainland Japan would cost America dearly in terms of casualties and resources (Petro and Rubinstein 49). These concessions gave the Soviet Union a greater commanding presence in the far east, greater than what they originally had prior to 1904. Ironically enough, three months after the defeat of Germany, the U.S.A. found itself in a position capable of bringing Japan to its knees without the aid or assistance of the Soviet Union (Petro and Rubinstein 49). The results of Yalta: success or failure?:  The results of Yalta: success or failure? On the question of Poland, Stalin was resolute and unshakable in his insistence of its strategic importance to the Soviet Union, and the maintenance of the pro-communist Lublin committee as the de facto government of Poland. Despite minor concessions and compromises made by Stalin to appease Roosevelt and Churchill on incorporating some pro-Western Poles in the government, the fact remained that Poland was securely within the Soviet sphere of influence; “the agreement was so elastic the Russians could stretch it from Yalta to Washington without breaking it” (LaFeber 16). Even when Roosevelt attempted to decrease the ‘elasticity’ of the compromise in Poland through his “Declaration of a Liberated Europe” it was amended by Stalin and eventually accepted by Roosevelt himself (LaFeber 16). Despite the gains that Stalin was able to pull out from the Yalta conference, there were still some issues and demands that were either compromised or rejected. The issue of reparations from Germany was left unresolved; a Reparation Committee was established, but there was no unanimous decision amongst the big three as to what the exact sum of reparations was to be set at (Nation 152). Furthermore, Stalin had to accept the role of France in post-war Germany as a concession to Churchill for giving him Poland as a buffer zone. Churchill argued that ‘France was as important to Great Britain as Poland was to the USSR (Nation 152). The Americans achieved their goals of getting the Soviet Union involved in the war against Japan, as well as setting up the basic foundations for the United Nations and the voting methods to be used in the Security Council (Petro and Rubinstein 48). In the end, the big three made compromises that would ensure mutual cooperation until the end of the war, and set the stage for a post-war peace following the defeat of Japan. The results of the Yalta conference can be seen as a success to an extent, in the form of cooperation between the three heads of the most powerful states in the world. It is especially impressive considering the fact that cooperation was achieved despite their opposing ideological interests: “The Yalta negotiators confronted numerous conflicts of interest, but a mutual willingness to compromise ultimately allowed the vital concerns of all participants to be accommodated” (Nation 152). The Controversy behind Yalta:  The Controversy behind Yalta The results of the Yalta conference have sparked many debates and theories regarding a variety of issues, ranging from the division of Europe to the treachery of the Soviet Union in failing to uphold its end of the bargain. Some claim that Eastern and Central Europe, along with parts of the far East, were sold out to Stalin, in return for recognition of American and British interests in Western Europe and Asia. This theory, however, ultimately fails. The agreements that were made concerning the control and influence over certain parts of Eastern and Central Europe were a reflection of the reality of the situation that encompassed the area following the Soviet thrusts into Rumania, Bulgaria, Hungary and Poland throughout the course of the war: “if anything, what happened at Yalta was an attempt by the West to mitigate the reality of the Soviet control in the East” (Kennedy-Pipe 69). The reality of Yalta was both an affirmation of regional power politics and self-interested goals, as well as the desire to establish a peaceful and stable post-war setting that would accommodate all three powers: “what occurred at Yalta was a classic negotiating process characterized by hard-bargaining and mutual concessions . . . An encounter in which they prized agreement by traditional negotiation as preferable to unilateral action which might undermine the international stability” (Nation 153). When the Soviet Union intervened in the political affairs of Rumania two weeks after the Yalta conference, Roosevelt alleged that Stalin had fallen back on his word regarding the ‘Declaration of Liberated Europe.’ However, the case for Rumania was easily ripped apart by Molotov, and despite American dissatisfaction, the fact remained that Rumania was an integral part of the Soviet sphere of influence over Eastern Europe (LaFeber 17). Moreover, Churchill himself turned a blind eye to the events occurring in Rumania in return for Stalin’s non-intervention in Greece. These would inevitably affect the policies and politics that would be discussed at the conference in Potsdam in July 1945, following the defeat of Nazi Germany. The Potsdam Conference: July 17 – August 1, 1945:  The Potsdam Conference: July 17 – August 1, 1945 Occurring five months after the Yalta conference, the meetings in Potsdam revolved around some similar issues, but the context of the conference, and the actors, had changed dramatically. Germany had been defeated, Roosevelt was dead and replaced by Truman, the policies and concessions of Yalta were being questioned, and the successful testing of the atomic bomb would ultimately change the fate of the post-war world. Objectives of Potsdam:  Objectives of Potsdam The primary goals of the conference was to come to terms over three important issues that were left unresolved from Yalta; the fate of former Nazi satellite states (especially Italy), the borders of Poland, and the question of reparations, which was the subject of much debate and contestation between all three sides (Yergin 114). The issue of reparations was contested between the two sides when the Americans and British argued that payments were to be made first to the creditors (American and British bankers), while Molotov argued that the Soviets required initial payments to offset the huge scale of destruction and devastation Germany had caused to the Soviet Union (Yergin 114). On matters of former satellite states there was also a failure of negotiations: when asked if Stalin would normalize relations with Italy, Stalin responded by basically asking Truman and the American government to normalize relations with Bulgaria, Rumania and Hungary. As Byrnes noted, however, Truman could not recognize the three Eastern European states, not with their current governments at least (Yergin 114). Finally, on the question of Poland’s frontiers, there too existed conflict. The American delegation in particular, feared that by giving more land to Poland, they were effectively constraining and damaging Germany’s potential economic and industrial rebirth (Yergin 115). Despite a complete failure of negotiations in the initial phase of the Potsdam conference, Yergin argues that there would eventually be renewed, and successful, attempts at resolving these disputes in the near future, thanks in part to the successful testing of the most destructive weapon invented by man. The Atom Bomb and its political impact on post-war Europe and the world:  The Atom Bomb and its political impact on post-war Europe and the world The atom bomb fundamentally changed the outlook, ambitions and goals of the American delegation at the conference in Potsdam. The fact that America possessed a weapon more powerful than anything ever invented by man gave Truman an undeniable sense of superiority, and greater impatience, throughout the rest of the proceedings following successful confirmation of the bombs testing (Yergin 115). However, despite the change in attitude, Truman, and Byrnes in particular, pressed for a quick end to the conference by proposing a package deal that would serve the interests of the Soviet Union, Britain and America. A solution was offered on the issue of reparations, and Byrnes noted that if Stalin accepted the compromise on reparations, than the West would accept concessions on matters of territorial interest for the Soviet Union in the East, so long as interests over Italy and the West were respected by Stalin (Yergin 117). The logic behind a quick end to the conference was based on the strategic importance of constraining Soviet expansion and ambition in the far East, especially in Japan. With the Atom Bomb, America no longer needed Soviet assistance to crush Japan because an invasion was no longer necessary (Yergin 116). The Atom Bomb cont’d:  The Atom Bomb cont’d Why did the bomb suddenly change the ambitions and goals for Truman and allow the American delegation to make concessions for the Soviet Union that were, up until that point, inconceivable? The answer lies in a statement made by General McArthur in response to the Atomic Bomb: “Well, this changes warfare!” Indeed, as Yergin notes, the leap in technological warfare “was a dismal promise to make geography meaningless” (Yergin 120). Before the bomb, concerns for the security of Eastern and Central Europe were dependant on conventional methods of warfare. The Bomb practically eliminated those barriers by making it possible to impose security on any location in the globe. Thus, while it could be argued that the bomb was an important factor that allowed the Big Three to make compromises and concessions that served their self-interests, the fact remains that the bomb inevitably resulted in a deep sense of insecurity (Yergin 120). When Truman first hinted to Stalin on July 24th that America possess a weapon of unimaginable power, Stalin responded, in an unflinching manner, that he hoped they would use it to its full potential against Japan (Nation 162). Results of the Potsdam Conference: success or failure?:  Results of the Potsdam Conference: success or failure? Compromise was made to increase the frontiers of Poland, pushing it westward up to the Oder-Neisse line. In return, a demand for a fixed sum compensation out of Germany’s industry was dropped by Stalin. Instead, it was agreed upon by the Big Three that reparations would be extracted out of their own occupation zones, with the Soviet Union being allowed an additional 15% of ‘unnecessary’ capital equipment out of Western zones in return for raw materials and foodstuffs from the East, and an additional 10% with no exchange (Yergin 117-18). Regarding the spheres of influence over Europe, the common approach was to let each side retain their separate interests in their own zones, for lack of a better approach: “Because they could not agree on how to govern Europe, they began to divide it” (Yergin 118). Thus, the fate of Eastern Europe was left in the hands of the Soviet Union, while Italy remained in the hands of the Western powers (Yergin 118). Like Yalta, the Potsdam conference can be seen as a success in the form of mutual cooperation between the two emerging superpowers of the world. Despite their radically polarized perspectives and ambitions, Truman and Stalin, with the help of their aides and advisors, were able to hammer out a post-war environment that left both sides relatively satisfied. However, like Yalta, Potsdam can also be seen as a failure due to some of the controversies that arose shortly after its conclusion. The weight of the Atomic Bomb had cast an uncertain future for the balance of power in not only Europe, but of the world. Conclusion: the stage is set for the Cold War:  Conclusion: the stage is set for the Cold War The conferences held at Yalta and Potsdam can be argued to have laid the foundations for the end of the Second World War and the beginning of the Cold War. The short-term considerations that were achieved at both conferences reflected the self-interested objectives that the Big Three had in mind for their respective spheres of influence. The principle factor that guided the conferences was based on mutual cooperation to end the war, and the desire for peaceful co-existence in the post-war period. By Yalta, the Soviet Union stood as a military superpower that was more than capable of finishing Germany off on her own. The concessions made by Churchill and Roosevelt was a reflection of this reality. Consequently, Truman and the American delegation, fearful of the threat that the Soviets posed on all of Europe, were determined to take a hard-line approach to curtail Soviet interests and ambitions, at least until the advent of the bomb. And while the Cold War was practically inevitable with the introduction of the bomb, it seemed, for a short while, that diplomacy and co-existence was possible, and that after witnessing the most destructive, costly, horrific, and inhumane war in history, peace was perhaps somewhat plausible. The use of the bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, however, shattered that vision, and the consequent political and ideological struggles of the following year between the two superpowers made the Cold War an inevitable consequence. Works Cited::  Works Cited: Adair, Paul. Hitler’s Greatest Defeat: Disaster on the Eastern Front. London: Rigel Publications, 1994. Donaldson, Robert. H and Nogee, Joseph. L. The Foreign Policy of Russia: Changing Systems, Enduring Interests. New York: Sharpe Publishing, 2005. Kennedy-Pipe, Caroline. Russia and the World 1917-1991. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. Kitchen, Martin. A World in Flames: a short history of the Second World War in Europe and Asia, 1939-1945. London: Longman Group UK Limited, 1990. LaFeber, Walter. America, Russia, and the Cold War, 1945-2006. New York: McGraw Hill, 2008. Nation, Craig. R. Black Earth, Red Star: A History of Soviet Security Policy, 1917-1991. Ithaca: Cornel University Press, 1992. Petro, Nicolai. N. and Rubinstein. Alvin. Z. Russian Foreign Policy: from empire to nation-state. New York: Addison Wesley Longman, inc, 1997. Yergin, Daniel. H. Shattered Peace: The Origins of the Cold War and the National Security State. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1978.

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