Elsey, George

Kane, Jim


Lunghi, Hugh

Roberts, Frank


Continuation of Interview with Sir Frank Roberts


Q: Before we talk about the political negotiations at Yalta can you give us an idea of the sort of bizarre nature of the scattered locations?

Sir FRANK ROBERTS Well, of course, it was the most extraordinary place to meet, I mean it was very hard to get there. It was – and the Germans only just abandoned the Crimea which they had conquered and as they left they were burning all the houses and leaving very little behind. But apart from that I mean both Churchill and Roosevelt – Churchill had after all been a rather sick man, you know, and he had to move in a wheelchair. And so we thought it was high time that Stalin came to meet us. You see, because after all we'd been first to Tehran which was next door to Russia, and then we'd been to Moscow. But Stalin maintained that he was also running the war, so was Churchill for that matter, and Roosevelt, and therefore he couldn't leave Russia and he wouldn't. And there's that famous telegram that finally Churchill sent to Roosevelt saying, so let it be Yalta, we'll first meet in Malta, where they had a meeting the two of them, let none of us falter. And there we went. And er, we- we had to land in Simferopol. It took us about a 100 kilometres to – to Yalta over the other side of the mountains on the Black Sea and although the Russians were then fighting a war and were rather short of manpower that road for a 100 kilometres long had every ten metres or so a Russian soldier, or some of them were women soldiers, lining the road, you can imagine how many there were on a 100 kilometre route rather like, you know, villages. But when we got there, you see, we – we had our meetings in the – one of the places still left, the big palace, the Tsar's winter palace and we went there for meetings. But then Churchill was in a house about ten, ten, fifteen kilometres away, and I never- never saw the American house. And we – we the less senior people were another fifteen kilometres away and our offices and headquarters were back in Sevastopol which was 60 kilometres away on a British ship. And there were no –there were no Press, there was nothing of that kind, and we never met – I mean the great man I think each had – each gave a dinner party for the great, er, but apart from that there were no meetings over drinks, you know, there was no sort of having a chat whilst you waited to go an see the big man. It was a very unusual kind of conference.

Q: What were the major achievements to come out of Yalta?

Sir FRANK ROBERTS: Well, I think Yalta there were really – there were really four things, and one could add – add a fifth. The first thing was to – to make sure that we were all agreed on the strategy required to end a war, and again to confirm the arrangements already made in the European Commission in London for the occupation of Germany after we'd won the war. But winning the war was rather important because Yalta took place only just after the Russian counter attack in the Ardennes which had inflicted a very serious setback upon the allied advance in to Germany, and delayed the crossing of the Rhine by several months. But that wasn't a difficulty, that – that all be done, and there were a lot of soldiers there doing it, as it were. And then the second very important topic, and that is now regarded as the whole purpose of Yalta was the arrangements in Eastern Europe and particularly in Poland. But there were two other very major things, and for Roosevelt they were the two most important, I mean apart, of course, from winning the war. And one was the war against Japan and at that time the Atom bomb just existed – I think there were only three in existence, nobody knew how it would work in the heat of battle, so to speak. Nobody knew whether it would actually stop the Japanese and the idea was that – at least one of the ideas was that if we had to go on island hopping and eventually attack Japan from the sea it would have probably meant half a million dead or up to a million casualties. So it was very important to get the Russians to join in the war against Japan and attack the Japanese from the rear, as it were, in Manchuria. I mean that was anyway the thinking of that time, and for Roosevelt that was terribly important to persuade Stalin that he would come in to the war against Japan. I've never quite understood why he thought it was going to be difficult because he was offering Stalin a lot of advantages, taking over areas in – in Manchuria, near Manchuria which had belonged to the (name) and which now belonged to China which was an ally of Roosevelt's and yet not present at Yalta. Then the other thing, and this again I mean we can hardly criticise, Roosevelt was looking to the future, the creation of the United Nations, how we were to organise the world after the war. And he was very determined that it shouldn't be like the League of Nations after the end of the First World War, which had suffered from neither the Americans nor the Russians, nor for that matter the Germans, being members of it. And it was very important that the two great powers should be members of it, and therefore Russia must be persuaded to join the United Nations on acceptable terms. And the Russians were demanding that they should have fifteen seats because they had fifteen republics, you see, and eventually a deal was struck at Yalta that only two of the others, Ukraine and Bielo-Russia should have seats. But for Roosevelt these were major priorities and I think it was perfectly reasonable that they should be. So those were the four topics. For us, of course, the major topic was the future of Eastern Europe and above all Poland. And on that Stalin obviously was bound to get what he wanted because the Red Army was in occupation of the whole – the whole area, including Poland. They'd already gone through Poland in to Germany by the time we were in Yalta. Now I said there was another subject which came up, which was of course France, but that wasn't expected to come up. And er, what happened was that Roosevelt in his general policy of playing up to Stalin very much said to Stalin at one point, you know, I don't intend to remain in Europe after the war, and within two years American troops will be withdrawn from Europe. And this so horrified Churchill who felt he was going to be left alone in Europe with this, - even Russia weakened by the war was going to be a very major power with rather big ambitions, and so Churchill, who anyway attached great importance to reviving France and always had a rather emotional feeling about France, felt he must insist upon France having a role in the occupation of Germany and of Austria. And he had great trouble over that because Stalin didn't – didn't think much of France which had collapsed so quickly in 1940 and Roosevelt didn't like to go because he'd always preferred the Vichy French. But Churchill insisted and in the end they said, alright, have it your own way, but you must give the French their – their zone and their secretary in Berlin out off the British sector. And so those were the main things that happened. I think very little else. Other things were left over like reparations and Yugoslavia and….


Q: Could you describe Churchill's reaction to that?

Sir FRANK ROBERTS: Well, when – when Churchill heard that I don't think they'd agreed, you see, that this should be said, and Churchill could certainly have regarded it as an unwise thing to say, there was no need to tell Stalin this was going to happen. But anyway it had happened and – and he was rather horrified and suddenly felt I'm going to be left alone in – in Europe to deal with this very powerful country, however much it's been weakened by the war. And at that time one has to remember that at the end of the war the most powerful armies sort of in the centre of Europe were the Swedes, Yugoslavs and the Swiss, you know there was nobody else. And so he- this strengthened Churchill's already rather strong emotional feeling that France was an ally which had suffered, and we hadn't been able to prevent this, and that we must bring France back in to the – in to the circle of the great powers as best we could. But neither- Roosevelt didn't like to go, and Stalin had never forgiven the French for collapsing in 1940 and thereby enabling Hitler to attack Russia in 1941, and he had great difficulty in persuading them to agree. Finally they more or less said, well, all right, have it your own way. And so the French got their zone in their sector, made out of the British zone and British sector. And I don't think the French ever quite realised what Churchill did for them at Yalta because they're always attacking Yalta, as terrible things happened at Yalta because the French weren't there.