Interview with Hugh Lunghi, 1/7/96
Interview with Hugh Lunghi, 1/7/96
INT: Well, chronologically, the Poles had an even rougher deal when we get to Yalta, so that's something it's very important we cover. But you were there at Yalta. Can you give us an idea of just the geographical location of Yalta, where you arrived and what it looked like, and how that journey appeared, travelling from the airport down to the Crimea?
HL: I arrived in the Crimea at Saki Airport, which was chosen because its runways were long enough to take our aircraft coming in and the American liberators and our bombers which were bringing our people in, Skymasters. And I was part of an advance party, advance party of one at that time, (Laughs) and then there were two of us; but I worked on that airfield, which was snow-covered, bitterly cold, helping to set up communications, and any messages that I had from our Air Force people, both in Moscow and at home, relayed via Moscow, I passed on to the Russians for the reception of our aircraft. And I was there, oh, two, almost three weeks before the Yalta Conference - the Crimea Conference, as the Russians called it - opened. From Saki, I went, together with Joan Bright, as she was then, who was Churchill's ...
INT: Can I ask you that again, because we may never find out who Joan Bright is?
INT: So tell me how you were joined by a colleague and what the journey was like from the airfield down to Yalta itself.
HL: Right. From Saki, I eventually had to go to Yalta and to our quarters in the Crimea, which wasn't at Yalta at all - I'll explain that in a moment. The journey from Saki to the various palaces where the heads of government were going to stay, was 90 miles, approximately 90 miles; it would take between five and six hours, and the first journey I made by car, it took about... yes, just... just over five hours. And it was a wonderful journey in a way, because although the Crimea was devastated, a lot of buildings down, and there were miserable inhabitants sort of shuffling around the place, but we had a clear run to Yalta, and as you cross, there's a ridge of mountains just before you get to Yalta - I suppose 10 miles or so - and you climb these mountains, and there was winter on one side, and we climbed out of winter, and as we came down the other side there was sunshine, spring, the Mediterranean climate. It was an amazing experience, actually, and it was... we, at that time, hoped it was going to be symbolic of the success of the conference - and which in a sense it was, in one sense. Anyway, I first went to the Vorontsov Palace, which was at a little Hamlet called Alubka, and that was 12 miles from the Livadia Palace, which was the Tsar's palace on the coast of the Crimea, where the American delegation, where Roosevelt was going to be stationed, and that palace was a couple of miles from Yalta itself, so in fact the conference didn't take place in Yalta at all: it was in the Crimea, and they called it Yalta. Stalin stayed at a villa palace, you can call it, called... it was the Yusupov Palace, but in fact, because Yusupov was connected with the tsarist regime and the Russians didn't want to call it after him, they called it the Koreis Palace, so where Stalin was staying, we were told to call it Kareis, simply Kareis. And so the various palaces where the heads of government stayed made a kind of triangle. There was Koreis further to the north, Livadia on the east side, and the Vorontsov Palace where we stayed on the west side. And what I have to say... shall I talk about this now, what it was like?
INT: Tell me what it was like, and if you could bring into this answer... I'm curious to know how a nation so devastated by war could lay on a conference.
HL: That's exactly, exactly what I wanted to do. When I arrived at the Vorontsov Palace, I was met by the advance party from England, Churchill's administrative officer, and we found that the place had been furnished with marvellous furniture. Now we knew, and the Russians told us, and one could see, that all these places had been virtually gutted by the Germans as they retreated from the Crimea only a year previously, and yet... I mean, they'd had to leave some things, obviously: some of the portraits and so on were still left there, in their hurry to get out. But the places were all re-furnished, refurbished with furniture, tables, chairs, with some antique furniture, you could describe it; and there was a full staff of people to look after us - and we knew where they'd come from, because we recognised some of the staff, who were people from the major hotels in Moscow, the National, the Moskva Hotel, the Metropol Hotel. They had all been carted down together with furnishings from these hotels, and put there for our comfort, for the comfort of the delegations, obviously, all carted down from Moscow in I suppose a few weeks, because Yalta had only been agreed on... well, I suppose a month or two previously. But they'd brought all this down, had had to fix up plumbing, electricity and so on. It was really a marvellous feat, and another sign of this genuine Russian hospitality. And of course, Stalin, we knew, wanted to show the place at its best. But not only that: when the conference opened, we were given everything, more or less, that we asked for. I mean, some things they eventually said, "Oh, well, we can't supply that," but it was very difficult to get them to say that they couldn't - they kept saying, "Oh, yes, yes," and then the things wouldn't come; I mean, certain tables and chairs which were asked for for some of the staff, they didn't come, and obviously they weren't available. But as far as hospitality was concerned... we were in the middle of the... well, towards the end of the war... we were given the most wonderful food; for elevenses there was often champagne, certainly white wine; for breakfast we'd have what is now known as bucks fizz, we'd have orange juice and champagne. It was really marvellous. And of course, the banquets were very well laid on. Each head of state had his own banquet, but then of course the food came from the Russians.
INT: Well, that was also what I was going to ask about, becaus when Stalin was due for dinner at the Vorontsov Palace, I wanted to get an idea from you of the security measures that they went into to prepare for Stalin's visit.
HL: Stalin was invited to dinner with... Churchill was the host, at the Vorontsov Palace, and before he came to dinner, we had a whole host of Soviet security people descending on us. I mean, a lot of them we knew because they had accompanied us round the Crimea. Similarly, there were Soviet troops, incidentally, lined along the route from Saki aerodrome down to these palaces, every hundred metres - I mean, it seemed like about 10 yards, but in fact it was every 100 metres, there was a Soviet sentry or two. And I met subsequently, in England afterwards, one of the young lieutenants who was in charge, and I said to him, "We thought this was a bit much. Surely you had cleared the Germans out - what was all the fuss about, why did you have all these troops wasted there, guarding the route every hundred...?" And he said, "Yes, every hundred metres we had one or two sentries, and I was in charge of one of the platoons who was there." And he said, "Well, actually there were hostile people around - Crimean Tartars," who'd all been deported, actually, but there were some left. He said some of the local population were hostile towards us. Whether that was true or not, I don't know. But anyway, when Stalin was invited, I saw (Coughs)... Sorry.
(A bit of talk. Cut.)
INT: Tell me about the security measures at the palace.
HL: Stalin had been, for the first time ever, to the British Embassy in Moscow the previous autumn, and I saw that the NKVD -KGB now - had come and buzzed the place all over, to make sure there weren't any bombs or anything there. And in fact they had put a searchlight on top of the Embassy. So I wasn't at all surprised when we had this horde of Soviet security troops - they were all in uniform, one or two out of uniform - who descended on the Vorontsov Palace 24 hours before Stalin was due to come, and they searched every bit of the Vorontsov, although it was they who had put all the furniture in, all the equipment and so on. They went out into the garden, they searched even under the lions, the monumental lions which formed this wonderful staircase going up from the gardens into the palace, into the Moorish part of the palace, and these lions, apparently they were modelled, we were told, on some in Italy. The bottom lion was lying asleep, the next lion was sort of half waking up, sitting, and the lion at the top was not quite rampant but he was ready to guard; a wonderful staircase, of which I have photographs at home. And the security people looked round these lions, under these lions, all over, and they searched, well, almost every inch of the garden as well. I wasn't entirely surprised, but the rest of our delegation thought that this was a bit much, even in wartime. You see, at that time one didn't have even the same amount of security for heads of state as one has today, so some of them were a bit shocked. I wasn't, coming from Moscow, because I knew that Stalin was guarded as though he was God.