Potsdam 1945 - Where the Cold War Started

Potsdam 1945 - Where the Cold War Started

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On March 16 2019, this channel debuted on YouTube with an episode covering the Potsdam conference, the last of the wartime allied meetings to coordinate both strategy and determine the future of the post-war world. I think it would be fair to say that, while we are proud of that first episode, we have learned an awful lot about making and presenting these videos. We have also learned a lot more about the level of depth that many of you, our viewers, want to see in those videos. I’m your host David and we decided to go back and revisit

our Potsdam episode to see if we could make it...better! Welcome to the inaugural episode of The Cold War, redux edition! We are able to provide Cold War content and let you watch it in one place without hunting for sources thanks to our sponsors. The sponsor of today’s video, Hunting Clash, knows everything about hunting and is eager to help you enjoy it from the comfort of your home. This next-generation hunting simulator & shooting game is available for free on Android and Iphone, and you can support us by downloading Hunting Clash from the link in the description! Hunting clash allows you to travel to breathtaking locations like woods of Montana, the forests of Kamchatka and go on African safari for stunning views and realistic animals, to feel the thrill of big game hunting. Track animals like bears, wolves, elk and much more to hunt in a safe and humane fashion. You can select a bow or a sniper rifle and play either solo or against real humans in a 1v1 PVP duels. Become a master of sniper games, get epic loot and show off

who’s boss in this animal gun game! The graphics are like AAA sniper games and the best part? You can get yourself a dog, who can be trained and help you on your hunts! You can support us and your hunting hobby by clicking the link in the description and downloading Hunting clash today! With the unconditional surrender of Germany on May 8, 1945, 6 years of war in Europe came to a close. The Axis powers, who had seemed unstoppable in 1940, had been smashed by the combined military and economic weight of the Allied powers. And although the outlines had been sketched regarding the rough shape Post-War Europe would take, no final decisions had been made. Everybody involved was waiting to see what the exact situation on the ground

at the time of the surrender would look like. So, Allies were a global force, made up of up to 27 different countries at the time of the German surrender. It was a group that shared a common enemy in fascism but certainly didn’t share a belief in the same ideology. And not all of these countries were equal members of the alliance. It was very much dominated by the so-called Big Four: The United States, Great Britain, China, and the Soviet Union and even then, China was considered a junior representative. When the leaders

of the Big Three, Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin, met at the Yalta Conference in February of 1945, they agreed to meet again shortly after the final surrender of Germany in order to finalize the borders of postwar Europe as well as discuss and resolve other outstanding matters including how Germany was to be treated. This was to include how to establish a formal peace treaty. The German city of Potsdam, a mere 24 kilometers from war-ravaged central Berlin, was selected to host this meeting. Potsdam earned this

honour largely because it was relatively unscathed by the war and it was easy to secure to ensure the safety of the attendees. As Potsdam was in the Soviet zone of occupation, they acted as the host nation and the Cecilienhof was refurbished to provide accommodation for the leaders and their staff. We should point out that Churchill, no fan of Stalin, was against any meeting being held in the Soviet zone but Stalin and Harry Truman, who had become US President after the death of President Roosevelt in April, had already agreed to meet near Berlin and Churchill reluctantly acquiesced to the location.

OK, so, since one of the primary goals of the Conference was to finalize the map of post-war Europe, it is critically important to understand what the map looked like in May of 1945. The Red Army occupied Central and Eastern Europe including Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia which had been independent countries during the interwar period but had been occupied and annexed in 1940 as part of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, were now firmly under the control of the Soviet Union. Red Army troops, combat hardened and highly capable, were positioned in all of these countries, seemingly poised to continue their offensive into Western Europe. Facing them were troops from the United States, Great Britain and the Commonwealth, France and other Allied nations. They occupied France, the Benelux and Italy and the western half of Germany, including Bavaria and western Austria and even had troops in Czechoslovakia at one point. Denmark had been occupied by

British troops while Norway had been liberated by a combined force of Norwegians and Allied troops as well as Soviet troops in the northern Finnmark. In the Balkans and Southern Europe, Yugoslavia was under the control of Josip Broz Tito and his partisan forces, while Albania was under the control of Enver Hoxha and his communist forces. Further south in the Aegean, Greece was sliding towards civil war as Royalist forces supported by Great Britain were lining up against communist forces, supported by the Yugoslavian communists. Now, half a world away in the Pacific, the war was still being fought, although Allied progress was substantial, with Okinawa and Iwo Jima now firmly in American hands. Nationalist Chinese forces and Chinese Communists had suspended their fight to combat the Japanese on the Asian mainland, but the communists had been largely content to let the Nationalists bear the brunt of the fighting. The Soviet Union was preparing to enter the Pacific war,

honouring its agreement from the Yalta conference to declare war on Japan within three months of the defeat of Germany. As part of that agreement, the Soviet Union would be responsible for attacking the Japanese in Manchuria, the Sakhalin and Kuril Islands and would be responsible for the invasion of the Northern Japanese Island of Hokkaido. OK, with that geographic overview in place, we also need to consider the relationships between the leaders of The Big Three since these really are crucial to understanding the results of the Potsdam Conference and how the events of the early Cold War period evolved. Joseph “The Moustache” Stalin entered the Potsdam Conference at the peak of his power and influence. He had led the Soviet Union from the brink of disastrous defeat in 1941, of which he was arguably responsible for in the first place, to the very pinnacle of victory in 1945. With Soviet military power now extending well into Europe, he was maneuvering

to solidify and consolidate that power and influence on a permanent basis, despite pledges not to. Fundamentally, this was driven by a desire to create a buffer zone between the Soviet Union and its enemies so that if a new war was to occur, the fighting would not happen on Soviet soil. The scar inflicted on the Soviet Union by Operation Barbarossa ran deep and would continue to have a profound influence on Soviet decision making through the Cold War period. Stalin himself had a reputation as being a

clever strategist and an adept politician, simultaneously charming and ruthless with a healthy dose of paranoia acting as the cherry on top of this totalitarian sundae. A keen judge of character, Stalin was quick to exploit weaknesses and to play opponents against each other in order to take advantage of situations for his own gain. Now, Harry Truman had assumed the role of President only in April of 1945, after the death of Franklin Roosevelt. Roosevelt, through his meetings and dealings with Stalin had been quite sympathetic towards him and believed The Moustache to be a well-intentioned leader. He is quoted at the Yalta Conference in February of 1945, "I just have a hunch, that Stalin doesn't want anything but security for his country, and I think that if I give him everything I possibly can and ask nothing from him in return, noblesse oblige, he wouldn't try to annex anything and will work with for a world of democracy and peace." The result of this

was that under Roosevelt, US policy towards the Soviet Union was rather sympathetic. His successor, however, felt differently. Truman, a moderate Democrat from Missouri, found himself thrust into the Presidency and had to quickly orient himself in the world of international relations. He came into the job with a reputation as a modest yet efficient and no-nonsense leader. Importantly, he did not agree with Roosevelt’s assessment of Stalin or his intentions and Truman was highly suspicious of communism, which he saw as a threat to the United States and to democracy. He viewed the Red Army occupation of much of Eastern Europe not as a temporary action by the Soviet Union but one which would be permanent as the Soviets expanded their sphere of influence. He was also fearful of the level

of communist sympathy that existed in Europe, especially in places like Germany, France, Italy and even the UK. The President felt that Stalin would try to exploit these sympathies in order to further Soviet influence. And now, the UK leadership. Winston Churchill had always been a strong anti-communist and was highly suspicious of Stalin and his intentions. But Churchill was also a pragmatist at the end of the day and he knew that some concessions would have to be made especially given the position of strength the Soviets held. Might makes right, possession is 9/10th of the law, that sort of thing. At a 1944 meeting in Moscow between Churchill and The Moustache, verbal concessions had already been given regarding Soviet influence in Romania in exchange for a pledge of non-interference in Greece. Churchill

began the Potsdam conference with this approach still in mind. His aim was to try and ensure that some areas, especially key strategic areas for British interests, remained in the western sphere of influence even if this was done at the expense of other regions. Poland, the original reason the UK went to war in 1939 was one such victim. Now, regarding Churchill, we need to keep in mind that a general Election had been held in the United Kingdom in July but the results were delayed until later in the month to allow for the inclusion of overseas ballots being cast by members of the armed forces. The results

were announced on July 26th, during the Potsdam Conference itself, and to the surprise of many, Churchill had lost to Clement Attlee and the Labour Party. So, a word on Attlee then? At the time of the Potsdam Conference, he actually held a desire to work with Stalin and felt that challenging him too much would push Moscow away and risk a new conflict, something Britain was ill prepared to manage. But, Attlee did not consider himself a foreign policy expert and relied on his Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin for advice and counsel. Bevin was a firm anti-communist who was extremely wary of the Soviet Union, Stalin, and their intentions in Europe. So those are the Participants at Potsdam. Except, one of the key post-war European players was absent. Like at Yalta, France was not invited to participate. Although it had been agreed that France would be an equal member

of the Allied Control Council, that’s the body that would oversee the occupation of Germany, Charles De Gaulle, the de facto French leader, had what could be described as a poor working relationship with Roosevelt. There had already been disputes between the French and Americans over the zones of occupation and neither side saw eye to eye on the future of French Indochina. Churchill ended up siding with the Americans, believing the French would be more at odds and probably even a hindrance to achieving the goals at the conference that the UK and the US had already agreed on. De Gaulle, naturally, took this personally, setting

France up as a proverbial third wheel, on a divergent path, and ultimately weakening the unity of the Allies in the West. OK, so the Potsdam Conference is considered the last in a series of wartime conferences between the leaders of the major Allied powers, but it does stand apart if only because two of the three leaders were different from any of the prior meetings. The United Kingdom and the United States, for their part, were already used to working closely together as a result of joint wartime military actions and were now led by men who were quite cautious of the Soviet Moustache and his intentions. Lines, however informal, which had for years been hazy or indistinct were starting to become more clear and more solid. So, as we said, one of the primary purposes of holding the conference in the summer of 1945 was to come to an agreement on what to do with the defeated German state. Since at least 1943, the question of how post-war Germany

would be handled, was being asked in the corridors of power. Germany at that point had been the major protagonist in two World Wars in the space of thirty years and there was a common shared desire that the German capacity to wage war be hamstrung. Over the course of 1944, the US Treasury Secretary, Henry Morgenthau had put together a proposal titled "Suggested Post-Surrender Program for Germany", which is more commonly referred to as the Morgenthau Plan. The plan called for four major points. One, the demilitarization of Germany, including its armed forces as well as the destruction and removal of the armaments industry or industries considered necessary to militarization. Two, it called

for the partition of Germany into two separate states, the secession of part of East Prussia and Silesia to Poland, the secession of the Saar and the territory between the Rhine and Moselle to France. It also outlined that Austria was to be returned to its pre-1938 borders and the Ruhr valley was to be made into an internationally controlled zone with special regulatory rules as outlined in 3. Point number three was that the Ruhr was to be stripped of any and all remaining industrial capacity, including manufacturing and mining, and its population was to be widely dispersed in order to prevent any capacity for reindustrialization. The fourth major point was that ongoing reparations would not be demanded from the Allies but would instead be taken in the form of industrial material and territory. Effectively, the Morgenthau Plan called for the pastoralization of a divided Germany, returning it to an agrarian state with no ability to go to war. In September of 1944, when Roosevelt and Churchill met at the Second Quebec Conference, the points of the Morgenthau Plan were agreed on between the two men, with the exception of dividing Germany into two nations. Although Roosevelt

felt very strongly that Germany should be severely punished, Churchill was more reluctant, fearing that the United Kingdom would be left morally and financially responsible for looking after an incapacitated German state. Also if Germany was de-industrialized and made into a wholly pastoral state, it was estimated there wouldn’t be enough food or resources for as much as 40% of the population leaving the occupying forces there with a decision to make. They would need to pay to feed those people or be responsible for letting them starve. Neither was palatable. The United States and Great Britain both knew however that the Soviet Union was more than likely to move forward with stripping anything and everything they could from their zones of occupation. This belief was confirmed in the weeks and months after the German surrender as they witnessed entire factories being dismantled and loaded on trains heading East. In fact, the Red Army was not only taking machinery

and raw materials but were taking everything they could, including in some cases the plumbing and wiring from buildings. The approximate 6-week gap between the surrender of Germany and the movement of Allied troops into their zones of occupation in Berlin were used by Moscow to great effect, who used the time to remove anything of value in the western half of the city. OK, so that is the general background. Now onto the Conference itself. The leaders of the three powers began to arrive at the Cecilienhof in the days leading up to the start of the Conference on July 17. Both Truman and Churchill took time to tour Berlin, witnessing the after effects of the Allied air campaign as well as the Red Army battle to take the city. It also allowed them to see Germans as well as various foreign workers that had been forcibly brought to Germany to work under the Third Reich; these were the people whose futures they were meeting to decide. It is difficult

to estimate the direct effect this may have had but the destitution Churchill and Truman would have witnessed would likely have had some softening impact on the decisions they would make regarding their futures. The Conference itself was composed of various plenary sessions and banquets where the shape of postwar Europe was being decided. The dinners were lavish and the drinks and toasts were plentiful. The major talking points included the administration of post-war Germany and revolved around such topics as demilitarization, denazification, and democratization. A significant amount of time was taken discussing how to shape the borders of post-war Europe, especially regarding Poland and the German territories in the East. This included how to deal with and manage ethnic minorities, especially Germans, in now occupied countries. Finalizing the reparations schemes also became a major point,

especially since the Western Allies were witnessing the Soviets already moving ahead with taking what they felt was their share. There was also time taken to discuss how and when the Soviet Union would get involved in the war against Japan. And the results? Well, they are mixed. The goal of a formal agreement on how to handle Germany was not achieved. BUT on the other hand, a temporary working solution on how to administer Germany was reached, allowing time for a future formalized solution to be achieved. OK, so what did that solution look like? Well, Germany was formally divided into four zones of occupation, British, French, American and Soviet, under the joint administration of the Allied Control Council. While each

occupying force assumed local control over their areas and had the ability to administer the area as they saw fit, decisions which would affect Germany as a whole were to be discussed and decided in the ACC to ensure a relatively uniform development across the entire territory in anticipation of the end of occupation. The Soviet Army assumed formal control of the Eastern portion of Germany, including Thuringia, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Brandenburg and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, territory extending West to the River Elbe. The Americans took over administrative responsibility for Southern and central Germany, including Bavaria, Hesse, and Baden-Württemberg as well as Bremen and Bremerhaven in the north to ensure the Americans had direct access to the sea. The British sector, which included occupying troops

from the Dominion countries as well as Belgium, Norway and Poland, included Schleswig-Holstein, Lower Saxony, and Rhine-Westphalia. The French sector, only grudgingly given to France as recognition for their contribution in the Allied advance on Germany, was in the southwest corner of Germany, around the cities of Mainz and Koblenz as well as control of the Saar. Berlin, deep in the Soviet zone of occupation, was divided into 4 zones, one for each of the occupying powers. The French zone in Berlin was not the equal in size to the others having been carved from the British zone, after Stalin refused to reduce the Soviet zone to accommodate the French. Potsdam also resulted in both the restoration of old borders as well as the creation of new ones. The Nazi annexations that had taken

place since 1936 were reversed, including the restoration of the Sudetenland to Czechoslovakia, Alsace-Lorraine to France, and areas of western Poland that had been directly annexed by Hitler. In addition, it was agreed that Austria was to eventually regain its independence as a separate nation. As part of the effort to reduce the potential future threat of Germany, it was also decided to alter her pre-1937 borders. At the insistence of Stalin, who was looking for a larger territorial buffer between Germany and The Soviet Union, the eastern border of Germany was shifted approximately 200 kilometers west, to the line made by the rivers Oder and Neisse. This land was given to Poland, to compensate them

for the land the Soviet Union had directly annexed in 1944 as the Red Army pushed towards Berlin. This was the same territory that the Soviet Union had occupied and claimed in 1939 as part of the terms of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Although mostly agricultural land, included in the lost German territory was Upper Silesia, the second largest concentration of German heavy industry, after the Ruhr. East Prussia, the spiritual home of German militarism, was divided in two, with the southern portion being amalgamated into Poland, while the northern portion was annexed directly by the Soviet Union and turned into the military zone of Kaliningrad. All of this was seen as key steps to the removal of Germany’s war potential. Overall, German territory was reduced by about 25% of its pre-1937 size. Of course, those lands that had been German territory were full of Germans, so what to do with them? It was recognized that the ethnic composition of these territories did not align well to their new ownership. Modern estimates are that approximately 10 million ethnic Germans

lived in the territory east of the Oder-Neisse line. The overall accuracy of this number is difficult to calculate however as large numbers of German refugees had been fleeing west through 1944 and 1945, fleeing ahead of the advancing Red Army. It was well accepted by those involved in the discussions at Potsdam that having pockets of ethnic minorities under the jurisdiction of other governments could potentially lead to future conflict, after all one of Hitler’s main justifications for his territorial grabs in the late 1930’s was to protect German minority populations in those territories. As such, it was agreed that “The Three Governments [of the Soviet Union, the United States and Great Britain], having considered the question in all its aspects, recognize that the transfer to Germany of German populations, or elements thereof, remaining in Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary, will have to be undertaken. They agree that any transfers that take place should be effected in an orderly and humane manner.” With the additional German ethnic communities

across the rest of Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary, it was estimated that approximately 14 million ethnic Germans would need to be forcibly resettled. Truman and Churchill, as well as Attlee knew that the bulk of this resettlement would be conducted by the Soviets, under the auspices of Stalin. They accepted that although the term “orderly and humane” was agreed upon, it was likely that many deaths would potentially occur as part of the movement of populations. In the end, it is estimated that about half a million Germans died during the expulsions and resettlements which took place over the coming years.

The denazification of Germany was again a topic of discussion, as it had been at previous conferences and further details were decided on how to deal with Germans who had been members of the Nazi Party. We do need to keep in mind that not all Germans were Nazis with membership in the party sitting at approximately eight and a half million Germans by the end of the war, from a total population of about 80 million people. However, that being said, it is vital to remember that almost all leadership roles and positions of influence had required Party membership. The impact of that of course was that if all members of the Nazi party were excluded from ever holding positions of influence and power in the new Germany, as was proposed by some including Henry Morgenthau, non-German administrators would be required. But, if the goal was to return Germany to self-rule and allow it to return to a ‘normal’ life, experienced Germans would be required to fill administrative roles. This meant that, despite

calls for the death penalty for Nazi party members, a suggestion which had even found support from Churchill, a different method of denazification was going to be needed. It was agreed at Potsdam that top-ranking Nazis would be tried through a special court system, which became the Nuremberg trials. In this way, top ranking Nazi’s were used as representatives to be able to absolve lower-ranking party members. The issue of reparations loomed large in the discussions at Potsdam, especially for Stalin, who had seen massive destruction wrought on the Soviet Union. It had been previously agreed

at Yalta that while reparations would be necessary, those reparations could not be demanded in cash. Instead, it was agreed that reparation payments would be made by means of territory and industrial capacity and knowledge. And given the Soviet case that they had born the brunt of the war effort to defeat the Nazi war machine, those transfers would not be extracted ONLY from the Soviet zone of occupation. It was agreed that 10% of German capacity from the Western Allies zones of occupation would also be transferred to Soviet control. It is estimated that over 11,000 tonnes of factory equipment was sent east, from Germany to the Soviet Union, including technology from the Daimler-Benz engine plant at Obrigheim and the ball-bearing plant at Schweinfurt, both notable for their military-industrial importance. The Soviets also aimed to seize as much of the German scientific community

as it could, in order to have them work towards Soviet scientific developments. Of course, the Western Allies had the same idea, wanting to not only take advantage of perceived German technological superiority and advancements but also to deny these things to the Soviets! What came from this was competing programs from each of the occupying powers to scoop up German science...notable among the various programs were Operation Osoaviakhim run by the Soviets, Operation Paperclip from the Americans, and Operation Surgeon by the British. Now, prior to the meeting in Potsdam, arranging Soviet involvement in the Pacific theater had been a significant goal for the United States. They knew the casualty rate for the

planned invasions of the Japanese Home Islands would be extremely high and hoped to offset them by means of Soviet help. They were even prepared to allow the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido to be occupied by the Soviet Union. However, by the time of the meeting in Germany, the US had a new secret weapon. Or what it thought was a secret weapon anyway. The birth of the atomic age by means of the Trinity Test in New Mexico on July 16, 1945 had given the United States, and Truman, what the Americans felt was the upper hand in the Pacific War and they were no longer as keen to see Soviet involvement against Japan. On July 25, in a private meeting between Truman and Stalin, Truman revealed the success of the test to The Moustache. What Truman didn’t know was that Stalin, by means of a very well-established spy network in the United States and Great Britain, already knew about the success of the test, and although he didn’t reveal this to Truman, he knew that the United States possessed a significant military advantage as a result. Stalin backed down on his planned

invasion of Hokkaido in favour of taking the pre-arranged territory in Manchuria, Korea and the Kuril Islands. Of course, there is a good argument that the Soviets didn’t have enough amphibious capacity to invade Hokkaido anyway, but either way, no Japanese invasion was forthcoming. By August 2nd, as the conference was concluding, the Potsdam Agreement was issued, outlining and affirming all of the items, agreed as we have just discussed. Significantly though the Agreement was just an agreement; it was

not a peace treaty nor was it even a legally binding international agreement. The ongoing governance of Germany was to be conducted jointly by the occupying powers under the auspices of the Allied Control Council, using the terms of the Potsdam Agreement as its guide. It was made up of representatives from The Soviet Union, The United States, Great Britain and France. But, and there is always a but, this is where some chickens came home

to roost and the French, who had been excluded from Potsdam, felt no compulsion to follow the Agreement! In fact, they would go on to do their utmost to ignore the terms, especially when it came to the transfer of ethnic populations as well as materiel transfers to the Soviet Union. Their intransigence however was not just rooted in being slighted by the other nations but also from the fear that could be posed yet again to France by a united Germany. The ACC would meet, ineffectively, until 1947 when the Soviets withdrew, ending the mechanisms for joint governance of Germany and setting the stage for the creation of two separate states. Potsdam was, in an ideal world, to have been

the triumphal close to the Allied war against the Nazi War machine, bringing peace to the European continent. Instead it only served to highlight the cracks in the wartime alliance of necessity that had been formed between the Western Allies and the Soviet Union. It’s true, Germany was defeated and occupied, but a concrete plan on how the German state would be made new had not been agreed to. Rivalries which could be played down or swept under

the rug while fighting a common enemy suddenly could no longer be ignored. Conflicting worldviews made each side suspicious of the other. So, lines on maps were drawn in order to demarcate which power was to administer a given area, but the challenge with these lines is that although they were meant to be temporary, the longer they stayed in place, the more permanent they became. As we have seen several times now in various episodes, this is actually a recurring feature of the Cold War. And what did these lines serve to separate? Was it

an ideological rivalry? Was it rivals for political power and control? Or maybe rivals for wealth? Well, what this series is showing is that the Cold War was a conflict for all of these things. Each side believed themselves to be the good guy and that the other side was hell bent on global domination and the enslavement of humanity. Although in August of 1945 the focus was on how to resolve the war in the Pacific, that was soon to be over, with a new rivalry taking centre stage. That rivalry was to dominate world events, militarily, politically, and socially for the next half century, and in fact, its effects are still felt now, 30 years after the end of the Cold War.

Once again, thanks to Hunting Clash for sponsoring this video! Download this awesome hunting game via the link in the description! We hope you’ve enjoyed this revised episode of our first ever video. We’ll be back next week with more new content so to make sure you don’t miss that and all of our future episodes, please make sure you are subscribed to channel and have divided the bell button into four separate zones that then need to be put back together to press it, despite the inability of each of the zones to work together... We can be reached via email at thecoldwarchannel@gmail.com. And we are active on facebook and instagram at TheColdWarTV. If you enjoy our work your financial support would be greatly appreciated via www.patreon.com/thecoldwar or through YouTube membership!. This is the Cold War Channel and don’t forget, “The trouble with a cold war is that it doesn't take too long before it becomes heated.”

2021-09-21 10:10

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