Elsey, George

Kane, Jim


Lunghi, Hugh

Roberts, Frank


Interview with Sir Frank Roberts

QUESTION Could I start by asking you how important was the structure and personality of Churchill to the Anglo American alliance at the end of the war?

SIR FRANK ROBERTS: Well, I think it made it remained extremely important, of course. But but nevertheless, of course, the balance of power had rather changed. I mean up to the moment of the landings of Normandy, and after all in war military matters more than anything else. Our armies were as strong as the American armies. But as the war went on in the last year of course we had no reserves any more and yet we were scattered throughout the world and the Americans were getting stronger. So to that extent I mean whereas Churchill you might say had had an equal voice with Roosevelt and eventually by the time it came to Truman he hadn't got that advantage, I mean the Americans were the strong and getting stronger power. We were the strong getting weaker power. So to that extent I mean even Churchill did not count quite so much as he had before, but still, he did count a great deal, very obviously, and it came as a great surprise, of course, when he lost the elections and disappeared from power in the Summer of 1945. But that was after the war.


Q: Just ask you again, an assessment of how important the enormous stature and reputation of Churchill had in relation to the Anglo American alliance towards the end of the war and at the end of the war?

SIR FRANK ROBERTS: Well, of course he remained immensely important, no question of that. But plainly the importance of Britain was rather less than it had been until the landings in Normandy, and including the landings in Normandy in '44, we had really contributed certainly 50% of the military efforts of the Anglo American alliance. But of course as the war went on and we'd been fighting it for much longer than the Americans our power, military power, dwindled relatively speaking, because we had no reserves by that time whereas the American forces were increasing all the time, apart from the fact, of course, that America was a much bigger and stronger country anyway. So to that extent Churchill became not as enormous a figure, not an equal with Roosevelt. And the other thing was, of course, that as the war was coming towards what apart from the hiccup in the Ardennes was going to be victorious conclusion Roosevelt was thinking more and more in terms of the post-war arrangements which he was thinking of in terms of the two great powers, the United States and the Soviet Union, being part of the United Nations as they'd not been part of the League of Nations and that the peace development would depend enormously on that and more, in his eyes, than perhaps on Britain. And so at Yalta, for example, he was so occupied in building up a relationship with Stalin and removing from Stalin the idea that he was only interested in Churchill and Britain that he began to behave at Yalta in a way which Churchill found, well, rather foolish to begin with, but also very irritating, which certainly I don't think would have done at earlier stages in the war. But that doesn't mean that he wasn't still towering figure, of course he was. And equally it doesn't mean that the Labour government when they they came to Potsdam in June were not also treated as pretty important.

Q: Just going back to Churchill's rather shrewd assessments of the true nature of Stalin, can you describe how the the failure of the Soviet's to support the Poles at the time of the Warsaw uprising alerted Churchill if he didn't already know too that the true nature of Stalin, Stalinism.

SIR FRANK ROBERTS: Yes, well, I think one has to go back a tiny bit and remind ourselves that Churchill had been extremely anti-Communist and therefore anti-Stalin and anti-Russian, but even that had not prevented him, even before the war when he was out of office in 1938 and '39, trying to persuade Neville Chamberlain not to ignore Russia, although Russia at that time looked much weaker, I mean it was when Stalin was murdering all his generals and all his colleagues and all the rest of it, but even the Churchill was trying to persuade Neville Chamberlain, much as he disliked the Soviet Communism, that it was important to bring the Soviet Union in to strengthen the general deterrent against Hitler. So he'd never allowed his anti Soviet inclinations to weaken what he thought was the main objective which was the defeat of Hitler's Germany. Now as the war went on, and when Russia came in to the war, and she was brought in to the war, she didn't come in, and Hitler attacking Russian, Churchill in spite of his past anti-Soviet feelings at once welcomed Stalin's Russia as an ally. He did say to his friends, of course, that he'd have welcomed the devil if the devil had turned up to help him defeat Hitler. But as he went on dealing with Stalin, Stalin was very skillful in dealing with Roosevelt and Churchill. Even Churchill began to quite like him, you know, and talk about Uncle Joe, you see, which was quite an affectionate term. And they both had this idea that if you treated him the right way the phrase was if you treat Uncle Joe like a member of our club perhaps one day he will behave like a member of our club, rather forgetting that Stalin had a rather different club of his own which was the communist club. But that ceased or dwindled towards the end of the War because Stalin began to became more difficult, put it this way. Stalin was on the advance, I mean Stalin's Red Army was winning victories, was no longer quite so dependant on the West as it had been earlier on. And then above all, Churchill, of course, was concerned with the Polish question. We'd gone to war, after all, as an ally of Poland, and one of our major problems had been somehow to try to bring the Polish government in exile in to a relationship with Stalin's Russia in such a form that it would have been possible for the Poles abroad, and in particular the Polish Army which was pretty numerous, about a 100,000 troops and they fought very gallantly, very good Air Force and the Navy for whom Churchill felt a great regard, to allow them to get back to Poland after the war. But of course, it became increasingly difficult. And I think for Churchill one of the main turning points was Stalin's behaviour at the time of the Warsaw arising, which was in the late summer of 1944, when the Polish Home Army on the Germans leaving Warsaw, they were retreated you see, in front of the Russian advance, and the Polish Home Army rose, on their own, they didn't consult London at all, to take over Warsaw when the Germans left and before the Russians arrived. And the Russians had encouraged them to do this. And then the Russian Army stopped on the Vistula, and didn't cross the Vistula. The Germans realised that the Russians were not coming over so they went back and started dealing with the Polish rising in a very rough manner. And we wanted to help the Poles, and the only way we could help them was by sending supplies from the South of Italy, we and the Americans. It was a very long flight and you could take very little with you on that flight. So we then went to Stalin and said Churchill went to Stalin and said, can we land in your airfield just the other side of the Vistula and then we'd be able to double our loads which are to help the Poles fighting the Germans in Warsaw, and Stalin wouldn't allow it, and pretended that he had never supported this rising and it was a shocking affair and ought never to have happened, and really just a fascist adventure and so on and so forth. And that had a great effect on Churchill and I think from then on he had grave doubts about Stalin, but obviously we had to go on fighting the war together, I mean he remained an important ally. And there were other problems in the Italian campaign and above all the enof the war, so I was in Warsaw at the time, at the end of the war, and Mrs Churchill was in Warsaw at that time. And Churchill was having such difficult arguments with Stalin, on among other things, deciding on the day when the war actually ended. We had a terrible difficulty over that because you see the Russians were fighting- were being forced to fight much harder by the Germans than we were. And I remember Churchill sending Mrs Churchill a message through me, you see, to say that he was having a very bad time with Stalin and that she was on no account to allow herself, the phrase he used was to be drawn in to any jollifications. Well, the next day there was going to be a jollification, she was being given a gala performance at the Bolshoi and I had to take this telegram to Mrs Churchill. I must say she won my heart at once by saying don't telegrams sometimes arrive late, couldn't this telegram have arrived tomorrow. But I mean that illustrates Churchill's mood at that time. But that didn't prevent him when finally we had agreed that the war had ended, and we had a big party in the British Embassy in Moscow, she was still there, you see. And he sent a very nice message including the Russians in it, and he did even after Yalta, he'd not been very happy about what had happened, he went back and made a speech about Stalin as our gallant ally. But he had to do that, I mean we were still fighting he war together.