The invasion of the continent of Europe somewhere in Northern France, which later came to be known as establishing the Second Front, was first demanded, to my certain knowledge, as early as the Beaverbrook-Harriman Mission to Moscow the first part of October, 1941. But with every effort of the British Empire expended to plug holes in the vast perimeter it guarded, the inability of the British to mount such an operation with any prospect of success was pitifully evident.
With the entry of the United States into the war, the Russian demands for a Second Front became more frequent and more vigorous, coupled with poorly concealed threats to make a separate peace with Hitler. Strong supporters of an immediate assault upon Fortress Europe early in 1942 were plentiful in England and America, among whom was the influential Lord Beaverbrook, as well as a number of other pundits and armchair strategists. Faced by disaster on every fighting front in the early months of 1942, wiser counsel prevailed. It was not until March, 1942, that the Army War Plans Division under General Eisenhower began serious planning for a crosschannel invasion of Northern France (Roundup) together with a preliminary buildup of American strength in the British Isles (Bolero). A limited operation (Sledgehammer) was considered justified only in case the situation on the Russian Front became desperate, or the German Army in Western Europe became significantly weaker. The plan contemplated seizure of a bridgehead, probably on the Cotentin Peninsula to include the Port of Cherbourg, and to hold it, if possible, although evacuation and probable loss of most of the troops involved was a calculated risk.
The plans were approved by President Roosevelt on April 1, 1942. Harry Hopkins and General Marshall were sent to London on April 4 to sell the proposed plans to the British Government, where Prime Minister Winston Churchill gave their “momentous proposal” his cordial and unhesitant acceptance. This enthusiastic support for a Second Front was somewhat tempered by reservations about the serious situation in the Far East and the fact that a substantial portion of the resources of both the United States and Britain in men and material had to be earmarked for other, more urgent operations.
In the light of subsequent events in Moscow, it is significant to note that Bolero-Roundup was tentatively planned for the spring of 1943, and the very “iffy” Sledgehammer for late September, 1942.
Also during the period that Hopkins and Marshall were in London, on April 11, President Roosevelt sent a cable to Marshal Stalin asking him to send “Mr. Molotov and a General upon whom you rely to Washington in the immediate future.”
During this period, I was en route to Moscow; I had not been previously briefed on these projected activities—it not being considered that it was necessary for the American Ambassador to know, I suppose— and I was not subsequently advised for reasons which will become presently apparent. Ironically, President Roosevelt included in his cable the phrase, “I do not want by such a trip to go over the head of my friend, Mr. Litvinov, in any way.” I wish someone had told me at the time that this was the way FDR felt. Or perhaps it would have been even more valuable for me to know that, during the Beaverbrook-Harriman Mission, Mr. Harriman said to Premier Stalin, “I hope you will feel free to cable President Roosevelt directly on any matters that you consider of importance. President Roosevelt would welcome such messages.” To which Mr. Stalin replied, “I am glad to hear this. I have felt that I should not presume to address the President directly.”
So was laid the groundwork for the personal communications from President to Dictator and vice versa that was to cause me so much difficulty during my mission to the Soviets.
When Mr. Molotov left on his visit to London and Washington early in May, 1942, I was in Kuibyshev and therefore somewhat out of touch. I was informed after he left Moscow that the purpose of his trip was to complete negotiations for the Second Protocol for Lend-Lease aid to Russia. Extensive discussions on this subject were carried on in Washington, as will later be described, but of utmost moment and yet unknown to me were his negotiations for a Second Front.
In London, I have subsequently discovered, Mr. Molotov’s pressure for a second front had a cold reception. Although the grand plans for Bolero-Roundup and Sledgehammer were thoroughly discussed, Mr. Churchill refused to make any commitment about a Second Front in 1942. In fact, in cabled discussions with Washington at this time, the British mentioned several diversionary operations, shunned the frontal attack across the Channel, and again favored the North African Operation (Gymnast), which had first been proposed in December, 1941, and subsequently abandoned because Of lack of shipping and landing craft.
In Washington, Mr. Molotov had a more sympathetic reception. He asked that the Western Allies undertake an operation in Europe in 1942 of such magnitude that forty German divisions would be engaged and thus relieve the pressure on the Red Army on the Eastern Front. He presented very completely and graphically the desperate situation of the Red Army, and asked most directly, “What is the President’s answer on the Second Front?”
General Marshall assured him, “We are preparing a Second Front.”
The President told him, “You may inform Mr. Stalin that we expect the formation of a Second Front this year.”
In Moscow on June 12, 1942, I was astonished to receive the news via a BBC radio newscast that a communique issued simultaneously in London and Washington that day contained the following statement: “In the due course of the conversations full understanding was reached with regard to the urgent tasks of creating a Second Front in Europe in 1942.”
This brief account of events, completely beyond my knowledge at the time, will help to give an appreciation of the extent to which I, as American Ambassador in Moscow, was behind an opaque curtain of lack of information. It also serves to illustrate how frequently and how completely both Ambassador Litvinov in Washington, and I in Moscow, were by-passed by the direct personal diplomacy of our Chiefs of State and their Special Representatives.
My first interview with Mr. Molotov after his return took place on June 19. He was openly jubilant and placed great emphasis on the statement in the communique as to the Second Front and the good effect it would have on the Russian Front. “This could mean winning the war in 1942, certainly in 1943.”
In a short while it was evident from articles in the Russian Press and statements over the Moscow radio that the Russian people were being led to believe that the communique meant just what it said—there would be a landing in Northern France and an effective Second Front would be established in Europe in 1942. With the assurances that Mr. Molotov had been given, how could any other interpretation be made? But I felt virtually certain that a successful crosschannel operation in 1942 was impossible. Knowing President Roosevelt as I did, I suspected some kind of double talk or a different interpretation of the words of the communiqué.
As soon as I became convinced of the Russian attitude, I sent a message to the State Department which went about like this:
“For the President. Russian people becoming convinced that you intend a landing and a real Second Front in Europe in 1942. If this construction on Molotov communique June 12 is a false one, strongly advise steps be taken immediately to correct this impression, otherwise our relations with Russian people will be seriously damaged when real intent becomes known.”
I received no acknowledgement or reply.
I was in Moscow at the time, and a little later the British Ambassador, Sir Archibald Clark-Kerr, came to Spaso House to call, and I brought up the subject of the Second Front. “Why, no, Mr. Ambassador,” he said. “I have no such misgivings, nor have I noticed anything unusual in the Russian Press or among the Russian people.”
As a result of our conversation, though, he must have begun to take notice. As time passed, it became obvious to the Russians and both of us that there would be no landing in Europe in 1942. Sir Archibald sent a message to the British Foreign Office urging that immediate action be taken to counteract the rising tide of resentment among the Russian people over our failure to establish a Second Front.
At 3:30 P.M. August 7, Sir Archibald called again at Spaso House to inform me that distinguished visitors would arrive in Moscow August 9. The reason for their visit was Premier Stalin’s displeasure at our British- American suggestions that, because of the heavy loss of shipping and inadequate protection on the Murmansk convoy route, future shipments would be sent via the Persia Gulf and, also, Mr. Stalin’s disappointment that we had not established a Second Front in Europe in 1942.
I understood that Prime Minister Churchill was coming to Moscow on a special mission purely British, and it was not until later that I heard that Averell Harriman was accompanying him. Years later I also learned that, when Mr. Churchill had left London for the Middle East and Moscow, eager to get on with the solution of the problem of explaining to Mr. Stalin that there would be no “Second Front” in Southern France in 1942, Mr. Harriman, who was in London, decided that it would be a good idea for him to go along. President Roosevelt approved the idea and cabled authority for Harriman to go, but gave him no instructions. Harriman caught up with Churchill at Teheran.
While Mr. Harriman had no instructions, his very presence at the meetings of Churchill and Stalin was taken as tacit approval by this representative of the United States of any agreements reached.
Meanwhile, unbeknown to me, on July 16, President Roosevelt sent General Marshall, Admiral King, and Harry L. Hopkins to London to urge the execution of Sledgehammer in 1942, a Sledgehammer that would contemplate a firmly established and maintained beachhead on the Cotentin Peninsula. Marshall and King pressed the British War Cabinet and Chiefs of Staff hard, but finally, on July 26, in obedience to President Roosevelt’s written instructions to determine upon another place for U. S. troops to fight in 1942 and his cabled decision, they settled for Gymnast, the North-African Operation, with a target date of October 30. It is really amazing that three months and thirteen days after this firm decision was taken, an operation, which General T. T. Handy has called “unquestionably the most complex operation in military history,” Gymnast, renamed Torch for security, could be mounted in overwhelming strength.
On August 9, I was informed by the Foreign Office that Mr. Churchill would be quartered in the elaborate dacha of President of the Presidium A. I. Kalinin, five miles out the main highway from the center of Moscow, and that the Soviet Government was making available a new “guest house” for Mr. Harriman, which would be available for inspection as to suitability at 1:00 P.M. the next afternoon.
Of course, Mr. Churchill was the most important VIP who had visited Moscow since my arrival in the Soviet Union, I reflected on my way to the guest house with Eddie Page and Jack Duncan, but I contrasted the preparations mentally with our billeting during the Beaverbrook-Harriman Mission. The Russians might be angry, but they were certainly out to please.
The property of a wealthy and titled aristocrat before the Revolution, the new guest house was an imposing mansion at No. 8 Ostrovsky and Myortov Street, which we presently came to call Number Eight. The entrance led into a street level areaway from which steps on either side led up about three feet to the reception hallway on the main floor. Across the front of this hallway was a brass rail against which stood a desk occupied by a tall, husky doorman, most splendidly uniformed, who spoke excellent English. On the left of this hallway was a reception room, a library, and a small study. Directly to the rear of the reception hall was a large dining room, kitchen, serving pantry, and servants quarters. Off the reception hall to the right was an enormous master bedroom, two double and one single bedrooms, and several tiled and chrome plated bathrooms. The whole establishment was furnished in the elaborate manner of the later Russian Empire period, much more lavishly equipped and decorated than Spaso House. A full staff of servants was in evidence. The establishment was certainly adequate for Mr. Harriman. During his sojourn the dining table was always ready with the choicest foods, fruit, and drink available.
As we drove home, I reflected that Mr. Molotov had been put up in Blair House across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House during his stay in Washington. “Not to be outdone in gallantry,” I muttered to Jack.
A small cottage near the Kalinin dacha— two bedrooms with kitchen but no bath—- was also offered. We quickly decided on the town mansion, which became the U. S. guest house for the accommodation of representatives of our President during the rest of the war.
With the planes scheduled to stop first at Kuibyshev, and no positive information because of engine failures as to the number of planes arriving, there was considerable uncertainty as to the size and membership of the party and their day and time of arrival. During the morning of August 12, we received final word that the Churchill aerocade of four planes would arrive that afternoon at 3:30 P.M., according to their flight plan.
A formidable array of diplomats, military personages, photographers, and press correspondents turned out well ahead of that hour on the hot and dusty plain of the Moscow airport. The Russian delegation was headed by Mr. Molotov. With Mr. Molotov were Mr. Sobalov, Mr. Pavlov, the interpreter, a number of Foreign Office secretaries in their fancy diplomatic uniforms, and the largest and highest ranking group of Red Army and Navy dignitaries I had seen in a welcoming committee. All the foreign diplomats turned out with members of their staffs, Sir Archibald with his full staff and his military mission resplendent in their best uniforms, and finally myself with all of my staff including General Phillip Faymonville of Lend-Lease. During the hour that we waited, I had an interesting conversation with Mr. Molotov about the military situation in Russia and political affairs in general.
Shortly after four, three planes of the aerocade circled the field, escorted by about twenty Red Air Force fighters. The first plane landed at 4:35 p.m. Prime Minister Churchill disembarked immediately, followed by Mr. Harriman. Churchill paused dramatically at the head of the ramp and made his famous “V” for Victory salute, which was immediately interpreted excitedly by the Russians around me as a two finger symbol meaning Second Front. In the bustle of welcome, the landing of the other two planes was completely ignored.
The arrangements for the distinguished visitors’ reception was much the same as for the Beaverbrook-Harriman Mission—a fine Army Band, the snappy honor guard with white gloves and glittering steel helmets, the flags of the three countries, this time on three flag poles, each flag at exactly the same height as the other. The Russian officials greeted Churchill and Harriman first, then each Chief of Diplomatic Mission was presented. As Harriman and I shook hands, I gave him a wink and said, “Hi, Averell, surprise?” to his momentary discomfiture. We gave the photographers five minutes to snap and grind their cameras.
The band struck up the first of the three National Anthems, God Save the King, and we stood at salute or bareheaded with our hats over our hearts until the last note of the Soviet Anthem sounded. Of course, the distinguished visitors trouped the guard; the guard commander made his welcoming speech unsupported by a chorus of “Da, Da” from the soldiers this time. Churchill and Harriman made graceful little speeches into a “mike” conveniently placed at the end of the guard, and then more photographers. Eddie Page, Mr. Sobalov, and I carried Averell Harriman off to his quarters at Number Eight, to which he gave extravagant praise until Eddie and I took him to President Kalinin’s dacha to call on the Prime Minister.
I have no notes on this dacha; I remember only that it was large and low—one story I believe—and sumptuously furnished. What apparently impressed me at the time was the air raid shelter, which I described in detail in a letter to my wife:
A marvelous outlay—almost vulgar in its extravagance—passage walls and stairways of marble, rich carpets, rugs, and stair runners wherever appropriate, complete kitchen and dining room furnishings and equipment, fully furnished suites with an electric refrigerator in each bedroom well stocked with food and wine, air-conditioned throughout, the most modern electrical machinery, including large elevators. In fact, (it is) a large three story building built downward from the surface instead of up. The two small square entrance buildings of thick concrete painted green seem to merge with the trees in which they are located.
We discovered that Mr. Churchill had been scheduled to meet Mr. Stalin in the Kremlin at 7:00 P.M.; so Eddie and I took Mr. Harriman back to Number Eight, from which he left almost immediately to join Mr. Churchill.
Perhaps this is as good a place as any to explain and stress that, owing to the status of Mr. Harriman as an innocent bystander as it were, I was left almost completely out of the picture in the frenzied four days of conferences during the Churchill-Harriman visit and knew next to nothing at the time as to what was taking place, acting as a sort of Chief of Protocol, Liaison Officer, Aide, and general factotum for the two VIP’s, particularly for Mr. Harriman, who, I felt, now appeared to be a much more important and unapproachable person than he had been in Beaverbrook-Harriman Mission days. So doth power corrupt—and it doesn’t take much!
But if this story is to have any relevance, what was accomplished during those four momentous days must be told. In the narrative which follows, only on those occasions when I was present, or when I say I heard or saw something, is this an eyewitness account. The rest of the tale comes from rumor and information I gathered from the sidelines at the time, confirmed and bolstered by some very extensive and arduous research on the part of my collaborator.
Upon our return to Spaso House, I met Mr. Loy Henderson, Chief of the Division of Eastern European Affairs in the State Department, who, in addition to assisting Mr. Harriman, had come to Moscow to inspect the administration of the Embassy. Only then did I learn from him of the size and importance of the supporting staff.
In Prime Minister Churchill’s party were Sir Arthur Cadogan, member of the British War Cabinet, Sir Charles Wilson, whom I knew from the Beaverbrook-Harriman Mission, Colonel Eie Jacob, Officer of the Ministry of Defense, General Sir Allen Brooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, and his aide, Colonel G. Dumphie, Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder, General Sir Archibald Wavell, Commander-in-Chief India, and his Aide, Major Coots, Commander C. R. Wilson, RN, Naval Assistant, and the Prime Minister’s personal staff, his private secretary, Mr. Rowan, his clerk, Mr. P. Kinia, and his valet, Mr. Sawyer.
I don’t know how he accomplished it on such short notice, but Averell Harriman had also collected quite a staff. Beside Loy Henderson there were General Russell L. Maxwell, from the Cairo Command, General Sidney P. Spaulding, of our Lend-Lease Administration, with whom I would later have long arguments in Washington, a Colonel Kremer, a Lieutenant Gerard, Aide, and Mr. Francis Stevens, a State Department Secretary. In addition, there were fourteen members of the crews of the planes. It was quite an assemblage to absorb into our foreign community on short notice, but the staffs of both embassies worked so diligently that they had billets for all of them by bedtime.
After a brief chat with Loy Henderson, whom we had put up in Spaso House, Eddie Page and I returned to Number Eight for the best dinner I had had in Moscow for some time, with Generals Maxwell, Spaulding, Faymonville, and Follett Bradley.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister, without rest from his long and tiring trip, had plunged into his work at the Kremlin with characteristic energy. Present at the conference were Mr. Molotov, Marshal K. E. Voroshilov, Sir Archibald Clark-Kerr, Premier Stalin, Churchill, Harriman, and the usual interpreters.
It should, be noted that the British Ambassador was present in the Kremlin and was thoroughly cognizant of all that took place at this important diplomatic meeting, while the American Ambassador sat vacuously and pleasantly at dinner at Number Eight listening to the service chatter of four American Army Generals.
In the conference room of the Kremlin, Mr. Churchill set out to explain most directly the reason for postponement of Sledgehammer, and told of the plans for Roundup in 1943 with full details and proposed strength for this major cross-channel operation. Much of the eloquence and forcefulness of his discussion were, of course, lost in the stop-and-go of talking through interpreters. The sometimes long delays while the interpreters argued out shades of meaning brought flashes of the Churchillian impatience and temper, which seemed to please and amuse Mr. Stalin.
To every statement, Mr. Stalin took exception with undiplomatic bluntness that was almost insulting. He told Mr. Churchill that wars cannot be won if you are afraid of the enemy. Mr. Churchill maintained an uncharacteristic calm. Mr. Stalin cut short his explanations by saying, “I do not agree with your arguments, but I cannot force you into action you do not want to take.”
Mr. Churchill turned to discussion of the strategic bombing campaign against Germany in which the U. S. Air Force was just beginning to participate. He told Mr. Stalin that he hoped it would produce a substantial increase in beneficial results as it mounted in fury. For the first time, Mr. Stalin and Mr. Churchill agreed. Of perhaps fatal import for the future, Mr. Stalin said enthusiastically, “Yes, and homes as well as factories should be destroyed.” This discussion marked an easing of the tension in the conference room.
When Mr. Churchill explained the decision and the tactics of Torch Operation, Mr. Stalin showed an immediate and excited interest. They discussed rapidly and animatedly the date of the landing; the political implications; whether Vichy and Spain would come in on the side of Nazi Germany; the chance for success in the landings without serious opposition by the Vichy French.
It was at this meeting, I believe, that Mr. Churchill first coined a famous phrase. He took Mr. Stalin’s doodling pad and drew on it an excellent likeness of a crocodile, explaining that the snout and armored head and shoulders were Northern France and Western Europe. “It would be much easier,” he said, “to strike at the soft underbelly.”
According to Mr. Harriman, Mr. Stalin suddenly exclaimed, “Excellent, may God help this enterprise to succeed.”
His calling upon God was not at all unusual for, as I have noted elsewhere, he was, in his youth, trained for the priesthood.
Stalin went on to expound upon the obvious military advantages of Torch—taking the enemy in the rear, causing Hitler to send substantial reinforcements into Tunisia, bringing French troops into action against the Germans, keeping Spain out of the war, and perhaps eventually knocking Italy out of action.
This meeting lasted almost four hours. I returned to Spaso House about 11:30 P.M. very weary, to find a telephone message that said they were all at dinner at the Kalinin dacha. Wouldn’t I come over?
I had already had two evening meals; it was after the Moscow curfew hour, and the Moscow streets would be as dark as a pile of black cats; I had been to the dacha only once and in daylight; I wanted nothing so much as a few hours sleep; but in the diplomatic life, it’s always noblesse oblige, especially with very VIP’s, so I broke out Tommy Thompson to be my navigator and took off for the dacha.
At the table in the dining room, I found Churchill, Harriman, Sir Archibald, Counselor Dalton of the British Embassy, and Commander Wilson, RN. I ordered caviar and vodka and sat back to listen to the excited conversation. I gathered that Churchill and Harriman were elated at the cordiality of the conversations. Both seemed to be impressed by Stalin’s intelligence and immediate grasp of the strategic implications of Torch.
I was weary to the bone and unhappy. For this, I had been hauled away from my bed into the stygian blackness of a Moscow night. “Tomorrow comes the freeze,” I said sourly, out of the depths of my own experience with the Russians.
Harriman looked up at me sharply. “Oh, not at all, Admiral, not this time.”
The Prime Minister was very tired. Small wonder! He was only two years younger than I and he had been through a very rigorous regime. His head nodded and a couple of times he closed his eyes and dozed briefly, looking like an immense sleeping Buddha at the end of the table. He left us at 1:00 a.m. to turn in. I excused myself and Thompson and I went home to bed.
I imagine we all felt pretty sluggish the next day. I spent the morning over telegrams with Averell Harriman and helping him despatch a report to the State Department of happenings to date. The messages were so jealously guarded and peculiarly handled that no copy or notes about them are present in my papers, nor do I recall much that they contained. The big dignitaries attended a performance of Don Quixote during the afternoon, and I joined them for the second act. Loy Henderson and I returned to Spaso House for a hot dog and sauerkraut dinner. Afterward, we went over to Number Eight and found Eddie Page and the boys of the Press enjoying a sumptuous dinner. Averell had held a press conference but had to leave to join the Prime Minister at the Kremlin. As always, we had an interesting and informative evening with the correspondents and went home to bed about midnight.
That same morning, Mr. Churchill had made his official call on Mr. Molotov in the Foreign Office. The second day freeze was on. To Molotov, the Torch Operation was “ambiguous.” In injured tones, he reminded Mr. Churchill of the firm commitments made to him in Washington and London, and the communique of June 12 which promised “creating a Second Front in Europe in 1942.” Apparently he indicated most firmly that Torch could not be considered a Second Front in Europe even if it took place in 1942.
The second conference met in the Kremlin at 11:00 P.M., a working schedule to which the Russians were accustomed,-, but one which was bound to exhaust the most rugged Western diplomat with his habit of early rising. Present were Stalin, Molotov, Churchill, Harriman, Sir Arthur Cadogan, General Wavell, General Brooke, Air Chief Marshall Tedder, and the usual interpreters, one of whom Churchill brought. Mr. Stalin handed to the Prime Minister and Harriman an aide memoire of which I was able to obtain this copy:
As a result of exchange of views in Moscow which took place on the 12th August of this year, I ascertained that the Prime Minister of Great Britain, Mr. Churchill, considered that the organization of the Second Front in Europe in 1942 to be impossible.
As is well known, the organization of a Second Front in Europe in 1942 was pre-decided during the sojourn of Molotov in London, and it found expression in the agreed Anglo-Soviet communique published on the 12th June last.
It is also known that the organization of a Second Front in Europe had as its object the withdrawal of German Forces from the Eastern Front to the West, and the creation in the West of a serious base of resistance to the German-Fascist forces on the Soviet-German front in 1942.
It will be easily understood that the Soviet command built their plan of summer and autumn operations calculating on the creation of a Second Front in Europe in 1942.
It is easy to grasp that the refusal of the Government of Great Britain to create a Second Front in 1942 in Europe inflicts a mortal blow to the whole of the Soviet public opinion, which calculates on the creation of a Second Front, and that it complicates the situation of the Red Army at the front and prejudices the plan of the Soviet Command.
I am not referring to the fact that the difficulties arising for the Red Army as the result of the refusal to create a Second Front in 1942 will undoubtedly have to deteriorate the military situation of England and all the remaining Allies.
It appears to me and my colleagues that the most favorable conditions exist in 1942 for the creation of a Second Front in Europe, inasmuch as almost all the forces of the German Army, and the best forces to boot, have been withdrawn to the Eastern Front, leaving in Europe an inconsiderable amount of forces and those of inferior quality. It is unknown whether the year of 1943 will offer conditions for the creation of a Second Front as favourable as 1942. We are of the opinion, therefore, that it is particularly in 1942 that the creation of a Second Front in Europe is possible and should be effected. I was, however, unfortunately unsuccessful in convincing Mr. Prime Minister of Great Britain hereof, while Mr. Harriman, the representative of the President of the United States, fully supported Mr. Prime Minister in the negotiations held in Moscow.
The pleasant atmosphere of the previous evening had disappeared. Mr. Stalin spoke some plain facts positively and bluntly. The Kremlin didn’t like Torch. The Western Allies had failed miserably to deliver Lend-Lease aid promised. Meanwhile, the Russians were taking the whole weight of the German Army with terrific casualties. Sarcastically, he said that he didn’t believe it was too much to ask of the Western Allies to land six or eight divisions near Cherbourg and take some pressure off the Eastern Front.
When Churchill tried to defend his position, stressing the dangers and difficulties of the cross-channel operation, the discussion became heated and acrimonious. Finally Stalin said, “If the British infantry would only fight the Germans as the Russians fight them—indeed, as the RAF has fought them in the air—they would not be so frightened of them.”
Churchill’s anger flared up. “It is only because of the importance of the business at hand that I choose to ignore the charges you have just made.” Churchill then became so eloquent and talked so long and rapidly that his interpreter wasn’t able to translate. When he rebuked him firmly, Stalin laughed and the tension eased, but the conference never regained the friendly, cooperative spirit of the previous evening.
Someone told me that Mr. Harriman, at this meeting, was like a moth fluttering around the sparks and flame of the interchange between Stalin and Churchill. When finally he could get into the fire, he asked Mr. Stalin about the plans for ferrying aircraft from Alaska across Siberia. “Plans!” Mr. Stalin snorted. “Wars can’t be won with plans.”
We spent August 14 taking account of the situation and advising the State Department as to the progress of negotiations to date. I understand that Mr. Churchill prepared a lengthy reply to Mr. Stalin’s aide memoire and sent it to the Foreign Office. Averell saw it, but I did not. I helped Averell with his reply, an innocuous little memorandum concurring in Churchill’s reply, and taking the odd position that “no promise has been broken regarding the Second Front.” In the light of the above recorded events, it is difficult to see how President Roosevelt ever reached the conclusion he once expressed to Mr. Churchill “that the Russians do not use speech for the same purpose we do.”
We had lunch with Mr. Churchill at the Kalinin dacha and afterward we engaged in serious conversation about the turn of events. Averell advanced the theory that the amazing reversal of opinion and attitude by Marshal Stalin was not due to Stalin at all. He recalled that the same alternation of hot, freeze, thaw occurred during the Eden visit the previous year. I didn’t know about that, but I agreed with him that we had certainly experienced the same treatment during the Beaverbrook-Harriman Mission.
“I think I know what it is,” Harriman said pontifically. “Whenever Stalin gets tough with us, it’s the Politburo attitude he’s expressing, not his own views on the major subject at issue.”
I’d been doing a lot of thinking about that myself. “I can’t agree with you, Averell,” I said. “From my experience, I believe it’s a Soviet technique for negotiation—first day, all smiles, enthusiasm, visitors on top of the world; second day, the big freeze, nothing right, insults, visitors in depths of gloom, got to give Stalin something to make him happy again; third day, with or without concession, a big thaw, sunny skies, everything fine with the world. Today you had the freeze, tomorrow, the thaw.”
“Interesting,” said Mr. Churchill, but I don’t think he believed me. He had just had bad news about the Murmansk run. Of 38 ships in the last convoy, only five got through. He was very blue.
But don’t worry, I thought as I drove back to Spaso House for a rest before the banquet. If we don’t give now, they’ll still keep on working for whatever it is they’re after, no matter how agreeable they may appear.
The banquet was a typical Kremlin affair staged in the Catherine the Great Room. We picked up Mr. Harriman and took him to the Kremlin. Mr. Molotov received the guests in the Reception Hall. When all were present, Mr. Stalin came in with Mr. Mikoyan, Commissar for Foreign Trade. As usual, Mr. Stalin made the rounds of our circle, shaking hands with each guest. Then, he took Mr. Churchill by the arm and led the way into the Catherine the Great Room.
In addition to Stalin, Molotov, and Mikoyan, several other members of the Politburo and all members of the Soviet General Staff and the Defense Committee were present. Among the British guests were the more distinguished of the officers and civilians who accompanied Mr. Churchill, the British Ambassador and some of his staff, and the British Military Mission. The Americans included Loy Henderson, General Bradley and his aide, Eddie Page, General Faymonville, Colonel Michella, Captain Jack Duncan, and several other members of our Embassy Staff. As usual, we were seated at a long table on a raised dais with four other smaller tables seating about ten persons each arranged on a lower level as shown.
The menu was typical of the Kremlin—caviar, bountifully loaded plates of hors d’oeuvres, several fish courses, several kinds of game birds wonderfully roasted, a main meat course, the appropriate wines, and several kinds of vodka.
Almost as soon as we were seated, the toasts began. Mr. Molotov was toastmaster. I thought that Mr. Stalin looked worn and tired, but he soon perked up and was jovial and cordial to all. By contrast, Mr. Churchill was glum, probably still annoyed at the rough treatment he had received at Stalin’s hands the previous night.
Contrary to the usual procedure, Mr. Stalin presently took over the role of toastmaster and insisted on touching glasses with each person toasted. He was in rare form. Perhaps if Mr. Churchill had come out of his indigo cloud of gloom, it might have been just another pleasant, uneventful dinner, but he continued to stare about the table with his heavy eyebrows pulled down like awnings housed against a storm.
There is no need to recount all the toasts offered. Only two were unusual or significant. One of them came when General Sir Archibald Wavell rose to deliver his remarks. He was a colorful character, who had lost an eye in the service of King and Empire, and an old campaigner in Russia. The unique feature of his speech was that he delivered it in Russian. Afterward, Eddie Page told me he covered his previous service in the USSR, with many a graceful tribute to the Russian people, and that his Russian was almost perfect, a truly remarkable accomplishment for a busy military leader.
The other significant toast was led up to in this way. Mr. Molotov toasted the British Navy and its Admiral Miles, who did not respond. Then Mr. Molotov toasted the American Navy and its Captain Jack Duncan, but passed on so quickly to the next toast that Jack had no opportunity to respond. I looked around at Jack and I could see he was slowly burning under the collar. I shook my head at him and he grinned back.
Later in the evening, Marshal Stalin rose to speak. As best I can remember, his words went like this:
“Gentlemen, I would like to impress upon you the vital importance, in wartime, of accurate intelligence of the armed forces of the enemy; battles, campaigns, and wars can be won or lost depending upon the possession or lack of this information.
“I should like to point out in support of this statement a classic example of the effect of lack of information in the first World War. I refer to the British campaign at Gibraltar (which he quickly corrected to the Dardanelles). The British had conducted a long and expensive operation. The Turks had been thoroughly defeated, and had issued orders to withdraw from the area on a certain day. However, the British, due to a lack of an effective spy service and proper information, were unaware of how badly the Turks were hurt and of their intention to withdraw. So it came about that, early in the morning of the very day the Turks planned to withdraw, the British evacuated their troops, weighed anchor, and abandoned the area to the defeated and thoroughly amazed Turks.
“Here we see most vividly the effect of poor military intelligence. For, if the British had had an adequate spy system, they would have remained at the Dardanelles as victors. And if they had remained, the first World War would have been considerably shortened and countless lives and untold treasure saved.
“So, again I would like to stress the importance of accurate military information in wartime, and to point out that the most valuable of all people in a country are the spies who carry on the hazardous work of providing this information.
“Now, as you know, when we propose a toast in the USSR, it is customary that the one, or ones, toasted respond. But as there is no one present of those whom 1 now toast, naturally there will be no response. Gentlemen, I would like to have you rise and drink to those of the most valuable and most hazardous service of all—to the spies who provide us with accurate information of our enemies!”
I heard Winston Churchill mutter, “If I had the authority then I have now, we’d have advanced not withdrawn!”
I wondered for a moment what had brought forth this outburst; then I recalled that one of the reasons Mr. Churchill had given Mr. Stalin for the decision to abandon a Second Front in Europe in 1942 was the information the British had that certain crack Nazi divisions were in Western Europe, while Soviet Intelligence located these same divisions fighting against the Red Army in Russia, and held that the coast of France was defended by second rate divisions. I don’t know whether Mr. Stalin realized that his honored guest had been the British First Sea Lord, who initiated the Dardanelles Campaign against severe opposition in the British Cabinet, but, in any case, the man who had deliberately insulted the British infantry to Churchill’s face the day before was fully capable of this gratuitous insult to the former First Sea Lord, the British Navy, and the British Army.
Strangely, it was not one of the British, who take a long view in such situations, but my own Naval Attaché who rose to Mr. Stalin’s challenge. Beside him was one of the Foreign Office secretaries. “Tell Mr. Molotov I want to respond to that toast,” Jack said to the young Russian.
The Secretary tried to put him off but, when Jack insisted, he spoke to Mr. Molotov. The Commissar for Foreign Affairs turned and looked at Jack with a sneer on his lips and said, sarcastically, “The next speaker will be the American Naval Attaché, Captain Duncan.”
When this was translated, I knew a momentary alarm, but it was too late to do anything about it, as Jack had risen from his seat and, walking up between the tables, he took a position at the rear of Molotov facing Marshal Stalin.
“I would like to respond to the toast Mr. Stalin has just proposed,” he said. “But first I must correct an impression that Mr. Stalin has made that no spy is present. I am a member of the Naval Intelligence service of the United States—a spy, if you will.
“I should like to say to Mr. Stalin that we in the United States are just as well aware as the Russians of the vital importance of accurate information of the enemy. I should also like to say, as an ally, I provide our Russian ally with all the information that I or my service obtains of our common enemy, the Nazis. I have been in the Soviet Union for more than six months, but so far I have been unable to obtain any information whatever from our Russian Allies about this common enemy.
“Mr. Stalin, in his speech, said, ‘Untold treasure and countless lives would have been saved and the first World War would have been greatly shortened had the British had accurate information of their enemy at the Dardanelles.’ Would Mr. Stalin like to shorten World War II, save untold treasure and countless lives? If so, then I appeal to him—see that his Allies are provided such information as the Russians obtain of our common enemy, the same sort of information that we are giving them. Certainly, such action would go a long way toward the shortening of this World War.”
Mr. Stalin rose and said, “Now, that is the kind of talk I understand, the most straightforward, honest words spoken here tonight. I want to assure Captain Duncan he will get the kind of information he wants about our common enemy. I, personally, will be his agent1 to see that he does get what he wants. And,” he added, “I want to join you in drinking with Captain Duncan because he has spoken out as he did.”
Jack stood fast behind Mr. Molotov’s chair where he had made his speech, as if to say, “Well, come on and drink with me then.”
Mr. Stalin made his way deliberately around the end of the table, glass in hand, and put his arm around Jack’s shoulders. We all stood and bottoms-upped our drinks.
The dinner broke up soon after, and I saw Stalin hook his arm through Jack’s and walk the length of the room into the salon where coffee and brandy were to be served. Later, Jack told me he took this opportunity to thank Mr. Stalin for promising to be his intelligence agent. “But Marshal Stalin,” he went on, “I know how terribly busy you are. You can save yourself a lot of trouble by telling the Commissar for the Navy to do the job for you.”
“I’ll do that,” Mr. Stalin said.
“All right,” Jack said, “Why not now?”
He steered the Russian dictator toward Admiral Kuznetsov, who stood nearby. Stalin gave him the desired instructions.
At 1:30 A.M. Mr. Churchill excused himself, pleading the fatigue of his long trip into Russia and late hours the two previous nights, thus avoiding a long and poor Russian combat film, which kept some of us up until 3:30. Mr. Stalin left his other guests and walked with him the long distance through the Kremlin corridors to the carriage entrance, where the two oddly contrasting chiefs of states parted with a warm handshake.
As he returned, he met Jack in the corridor. He turned and accompanied Jack to the door, as he had Mr. Churchill.
The Prime Minister had his last conference with Mr. Stalin at 7:00 P.M., August 15. Mr. Harriman was not present at this meeting. We have been unable to obtain accurate information as to what transpired, but I heard enough to understand that Mr. Churchill had pretty rough going.
But Mr. Churchill kept his diplomatic temper, argued persuasively through a new British interpreter from his Embassy, and by the end of the conference the tide of Stalin and Soviet Government enthusiasm for Torch was again in full flood. Stalin professed to believe that the benefits to the Red Army on the Eastern Front would be significant. The party ended on a note of high cordiality. Mr. Stalin asked, “Won’t you come over to my apartment for some drinks?”
Although his plane was scheduled for departure at dawn, Mr. Churchill eagerly accepted. I understand that he had supper with Mr. Stalin and his auburn-haired daughter, Svetlana, and then talked for hours. He returned to the Kalinin dacha at 3:30 A.M., wrote a long cable to President Roosevelt, and left for the airport.
We were out at the wind-swept airport before daybreak, Loy Henderson, General Bradley, and I. We had arranged for General Bradley’s specially equipped VIP bomber to replace the missing British plane for the trip to Teheran. The bon voyage committee was somewhat thinner than the welcoming committee due to the hour, but Mr. Molotov and his Russian “big dignitaries” were on hand. Much the same procedure was followed as for the reception, only in reverse. I thought the Prime Minister looked very tired and careworn as he stood at the head of the ramp, but he took the cigar from his mouth, smiled warmly, and held up his “V” for Victory, before he ducked into the plane.
Ten Lend-Lease Aircobra fighters took off as his escort, smothering us in a cloud of dust. General Bradley led off in his plane followed by the three British transports. They circled the field once, and headed south on the ten hour flight to Teheran.
I was told that a “communiqué” would be issued on August 17 for publication on the 18th. The press boys and I watched for it but we never saw it. The diplomatic battle of the Second Front had been fought out on the highest government level. It is hard to say to whom went the victory; I am doubtful that there was a clear cut “win or lose.” The Russians accepted a Western Allied decision which they didn’t like, but were powerless to change. The Second Front in Northern Europe was not established in 1942, but the Soviet Government and the Russian people continued a loud clamor for the Second Front long after Mr. Churchill took off from the Moscow airport that early August morning.
A curious incident resulted from Jack Duncan’s interchange with Mr. Stalin at the Churchill banquet. That afternoon after the Churchill-Harriman party took off, I attended my ump-teenth performance of the ballet, Swan Lake. At the beginning of the second act, I noticed that the Russian civilian, who had been sitting on my right, had been displaced by Captain Zeitsev, who was Chief of Staff to Admiral Kuznetsov, Commissar for the Russian Navy. We exchanged greetings. In the intermission between acts, Captain Zeitsev asked if I would like to see the Commissar.
I had known and liked Admiral Kuznetsov from the time I first met him during the Beaverbrook-Harriman Mission and had had no difficulty at all arranging meetings with him, but I sensed some devious purpose behind Captain Zeitsev’s rendezvous, so I told Zeitsev that I would be very glad to have an appointment with Admiral Kuznetsov.
The next day, I received word that the Commissar would be glad to see me at two P.M. on the 18th, and that he wished I would bring my Naval Attaché and Assistant Naval Attaché with me.
At the appointed hour, we met in Admiral Kuznetsov’s plush office in the Navy Ministry. Captain Zeitsev was present, but Ronnie Allen did the interpreting. We discussed amicably a wide range of naval subjects from the rank of naval officers to current naval strategy. At the end of an hour, I rose to leave.
Admiral Kuznetsov also rose behind his glass-covered mahogany desk. “Before you go, Admiral,” he said, “I want you to know that I have instructed my officers that Captain Duncan is to get all the information that he wants which is not controlled by other departments of the government.”
Jack did get to make visits to a number of Russian naval installations and ships which had previously been closed to our Naval Attaches. But as for information, I recall that Jack said about the Stalin incident that he felt, as he shook hands with the Russian Generalissimo, “Here the love feast ends.” For, as Jack put it, “Joe turned out to be a lousy intelligence agent.”
Editor’s Note: This article is taken from Admiral Standley's forthcoming memoirs, “Admiral Ambassador to Russia,” soon to be published.
1. One meaning of the Russian word could be translated “spy,” but I have here chosen the less spectacular word.