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Churchill and the Cold War: Why did Churchill make his famous ‘Iron Curtain’ speech in 1946?

Source 1

Copy of a telegram from Stalin to British Armed Forces


CHAR 20/218/92

Simplified Transcript

From Premier Stalin to Prime Minister Churchill

A Message to the Armed Forces and the people of Great Britain from the people of the Soviet Union

Greetings to you and congratulations on victory over our enemy. This victory has been a joint effort achieved by Soviet, British and American armies to free Europe.

I am confident that the friendship which has grown up during the war will continue in the years after the war.

My very best wishes.

10 May 1945

Original Transcript

Prime Minister's Personal Telegram
Serial Number T.881/5


A message to the Armed Forces and the peoples of Great Britain from the peoples of the Soviet Union.

I send my personal greetings to you, the stout-hearted British Armed Forces and the whole British people, and I congratulate you with all my heart on the great victory over our common enemy - German imperialism. This historic victory has been achieved by the joint struggle of the Soviet, British and American Armies for the liberation of Europe.

I express my confidence in the further successful and happy development in the post-war period of the friendly relations that have grown up between our countries in the period of the war.

I have instructed our Ambassador in London to convey my congratulations to you all on the victory we have won and to give you my very best wishes.

10th May, 1945.

What is this source?

This source is a copy of a telegram from Stalin to Churchill sent soon after the surrender of Germany in May 1945.

Background to this source

Before the war, relations between Britain and the Soviet Union had not been good. Churchill had been a passionate and vocal opponent of the Russian Revolution in 1917. In 1941, when Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, Churchill realised the need to co-operate with Stalin in order to win the war. Britain and America sent much military equipment to the Soviet Union and the leaders had met several times during the war, most recently at Yalta in February 1945, to plot the course of the rest of the war and to begin to shape post-war Europe.

How can we use this source in the investigation?

Remember we are hoping that this source can be useful to us in investigating why Churchill made the Iron Curtain speech in 1946. Sources usually help historians in two ways:

Surface level: details, facts and figures

  1. According to Stalin, who is the common enemy?
  2. How has the war been won?
  3. What does Stalin want to happen in the future?
  4. Why is the telegram sent to Churchill?
  5. What title does Stalin use?

Deeper level: inferences and using the source as evidence

Which of the inferences below can be made from this source?

On a scale of 1-5 how far do you agree that this source supports this inference? Which extract(s) from the source support your argument?
Stalin sent this telegram to celebrate VE Day

Stalin sent this telegram to the people of Britain, and not to Churchill, in an attempt to isolate Churchill and increase support for the Soviets inside Britain

Stalin sent this telegram to hide his real intentions

Stalin was at this stage unsure what would happen after the war in Europe and was hedging his bets

This source makes Churchill’s Iron Curtain speech look unreasonable

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Need help interpreting the source?

  • Historians can make use of this source in numerous ways. To begin with, the act of sending the telegram is significant. Stalin is taking trouble to show his appreciation of the contribution of Britain and its people and armed forces. At face value, this suggests that he is well-disposed towards Britain and to Churchill.
  • On the other hand, Stalin was well-known for his political skill and for being devious. Some historians might interpret this as Stalin having a hidden motive, such as trying to win over support in Britain. Other historians might suggest that Stalin was simply being polite and was not really interested in Britain.
  • This source leaves us with questions as much as answers. The remaining sources in this document may help with those questions.

Explore the guide to interpreting telegrams

Source 2

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