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The Second World War was nearly over in Europe. The Western Allies had liberated all of France and Belgium and threatened the western border of Germany. The Soviets in the East were only 40 miles from Berlin, after having beaten the Germans in Poland, Romania, and Bulgaria. The Big Three now had to decide what shape postwar Europe would take. This was decided at the Yalta Conference, where the priorities of each participant were put forward.
The Yalta Conference was the second of three major conferences held during the Second World War among the Big Three leaders. It came after the Tehran Conference in November 1943 when the Allies got together to decide the final strategy to win the war. It would be followed by the Potsdam Conference in July 1945.
The Yalta Conference, codenamed Argonaut, was held between 4–11 February 1945, near Yalta in Crimea within three palaces. The goal of the conference was for the leaders of the Grand Alliance, Stalin, Churchill, and Roosevelt, to discuss the post-war reorganisation of Germany and Europe.
The Allies wanted to ensure a postwar peace, representing the collective security and order within the European continent. They also wanted to offer the liberated peoples of Europe a plan of self-determination, meaning they got to choose their own government and future. This was intended to reestablish the nations of war-torn Europe into a stable unity and avoid any more war.
During the Yalta Conference, certain key decisions had to be made, concerning especially the fate of post-war Germany and Poland, as well as defeating the Japanese in the Pacific.
First of all, the Allies decided that a ‘Committee on Dismemberment of Germany’ should be set up in order to decide how Germany should be divided.
Winston Churchill wanted to divide Germany into three different German states whilst Roosevelt wanted a Germany made up of five regions, two international zones, and an Allied-administered Austria. The Morgenthau Plan, proposed in 1944 by Henry Morgenthau Jr., on the other hand, aimed to eliminate Germany’s ability to wage war by getting rid of its arms industry and removing other industries key to military strength. This included the destruction of all the industrial plants located in the Ruhr valley.
In the end, the three leaders ratified the agreement of the European Advisory Commission. This divided Germany into three zones of occupation, one for each of the three principal Allies, the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union. The US and UK later agreed to give France its own occupation zone, carved out of theirs. Berlin, Germany’s capital, was similarly divided into four zones. A large part of Eastern Germany was also annexed by Poland to make up for the land Poland lost to the Soviets. More on that later.
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The French leader, General De Gaulle refused to accept the French zone’s boundaries, as they had been established at a conference he was not present at. For this reason, French troops were ordered to not only occupy the lands they had been given, but also Stuttgart! De Gaulle later withdrew when the US threatened to suspend essential economic supplies...
The Allies also decided they had to be prepared against a potential renewed military threat from Germany once the war was over. To achieve this, the denazification of Germany had to be complete. This operation was nicknamed the Five Ds, which included the demilitarisation, denazification, decentralisation, democratisation and decartelisation of Germany. To learn more about this, check out the Potsdam Conference article.
The fate of Poland was the most important topic for the Soviets. The Red Army occupied Poland completely when the meeting took place, and held much of Eastern Europe, with military forces much greater than the Allied’s in the West.
Stalin stated that the question of Poland was one of security, since historically, Poland had served as a buffer zone for forces attempting to attack Russia. This meant that Stalin wanted a strong Poland, and he expressed the Soviet Union’s desire to create a ‘mighty, free and independent Poland.’
It was agreed at the conference that the Soviets could keep the territory of eastern Poland they had annexed in 1939, whilst Poland would receive a large part of Eastern Germany as compensation. The map above shows what Poland's new borders (in red till the Curzon line) looked like after the war in 1945.
However, Stalin also wanted to install a communist government in Poland, whilst Roosevelt and Churchill believed that Poland’s London-based government-in-exile was the most representative of the Polish people. In the end, the three leaders simply agreed that free elections should be held as soon as possible…
Finally, the United States wanted Soviet support in the Pacific War, in order for the planned invasion of the Empire of Japan, codenamed Operation August Storm, to go forward. Roosevelt hoped this would end the war sooner and save American lives.
But, Stalin made multiple demands before he agreed that the Soviet’s would declare war against Japan:
Mongolia’s independence from China had to be officially recognized by the US. This is because the Mongolian People's Republic had been a Soviet satellite state since 1924.
The Soviets wanted their interests in the Manchurian railways and Port Arthur to be recognised without asking the Chinese to lease.
The Soviets wanted the return of Karafuto, commonly known as South Sakhalin, which they had lost during the Russo-Japanese War in 1905, as well as gaining possession of the Kuril Islands.
However, these three key points discussed at the Yalta Conference, between the ‘Big Three’ leaders, were not the only ones of interest. Below are two more important outcomes from the conference.
The Big Three created the Declaration of Liberated Europe during the Yalta Conference. It was a promise that allowed all the countries freed from Nazi control to be guaranteed the right ‘to create democratic institutions of their own choice.’ The declaration pledged that nations could hold free elections and choose their own governments. These statements were similar to those of the Atlantic Charter which declared ‘the right of all people to choose the form of government under which they will live.’
The Big Three agreed that all original governments should be restored to the invaded countries whilst awaiting new elections. However, Stalin was offered his own ‘sphere of influence’ over Eastern Europe, where communist ideals would be upheld, since the Soviets had already installed their own governments in countries like Romania and Bulgaria. As for Poland, its government-in-exile was altogether excluded by Stalin and a new government was to be elected…
The Allies also agreed to setting up the United Nations, an organisation with the aim of preventing future wars, succeeding the League of Nations which was ineffective in stopping the escalations that led to the second world war.
The goal was to ensure international cooperation and Roosevelt made sure he obtained a commitment from Stalin to participate in the United Nations during the Yalta Conference.
The UN Charter was drafted and adopted by 50 governments when they met at the San Francisco Conference on 25 April 1945. The charter took effect on 24 October 1945, when the UN began operations. There are now 193 members, representing almost all of the world's sovereign states.
On the surface, the Yalta Conference seemed a success since the Allies were able to agree on a number of issues, leading to the Protocol of Proceedings: the Allies agreed to divide Germany into four zones of occupation, to bring Nazi war criminals to trial, to let the liberated countries of Europe choose their own government, etc.
But in fact, these were a series of compromises made by Churchill and Roosevelt, as the Americans were desperate for Stalin’s help in the Pacific war theatre. The US was prepared to agree to almost anything, with the most flagrant compromise being the fate of Poland. On the other hand, Stalin pledged to declare war on Japan but he would also make more territorial gains in the process.
During the Second World War, Britain and the United States became allies of the Soviet Union only in order to defeat Nazi Germany and Hitler. It became clear at the Yalta Conference that tensions between the two sides were arising, as they tried to organise the post-war world.
After the conference, Roosevelt received a letter from Churchill stating that the Soviet Union had become ‘a danger to the free world’. Both leaders were also criticised by the West when they returned. Cartoonist Paul Plaschke created a cartoon (then published in the Chicago Tribune) depicting the negotiations between the Allies as a game of poker: Stalin is winning easily as he already has Europe, and is about to seize China and India.
The Yalta Conference, also known as the Crimea Conference, was held between 4–11 February 1945.
The key points of the Yalta Conference that were agreed on are:
Fate of Poland
Ending the Pacific War
At the Yalta Conference, the leaders of the Grand Alliance (Stalin, Churchill, and Roosevelt) discussed the post-war reorganization of Germany and Europe. They wanted to ensure a post-war peace and offer the liberated peoples of Europe the choice of their own government and future. This was intended to reestablish the nations of war-torn Europe into a stable unity and avoid any more war. However, concessions like splitting Germany into four occupation zones as well as Berlin would allow tensions to escalate easily between the USSR and the West, and eventually lead to the Cold War.
The ‘Big Three’ were able to agree on many key decisions that had to be made, concerning especially the fate of post-war Germany and Poland, as well as defeating the Japanese in the Pacific. This was done through many concessions. Certain demands had to be moderated.
The Yalta Conference took place in Yalta, a Russian resort town in the Crimea. It was held within a complex of three palaces. Crimea is located along the northern coast of the Black Sea in Eastern Europe. The largest city in the Crimea is Sevastopol.
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