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

Source 4

Copy of a telegram from President Truman to Churchill


CHAR 20/221/19-20

We've highlighted the parts of the document which appear in the transcription below.

Simplified Transcript

Telegram from President Truman to Prime Minister
Personal and Top Secret            12 June, 1945.

Replying to your previous telegram.

We have agreed with the Soviets that Germany is to be divided into zones of occupation. I have to keep that agreement and so I cannot delay the removal of American troops from the sector to be controlled by the Soviets.

The Allied Control Council cannot start to govern Germany until Allied troops pull out of the Soviet zone.

Military rule by General Eisenhower should end as soon as possible. The Americans and the British should now take responsibility for their own zones.

I have been told it would damage relations with the Soviets if we delay the withdrawal of troops.

Original Transcript


Personal and Top Secret                12 June, 1945.

Your No.81.

In consideration of the Tripartite agreement as to zones of occupation in Germany approved by President Roosevelt after long consideration and detailed discussion with you, I am unable to delay the withdrawal of American troops from the Soviet zone in order to use pressure in the settlement of other problems.

Advice of the highest reliability is received that the Allied Control Council cannot begin to function until Allied troops withdraw from the Russian zone.

I am also convinced that the military Government now exercised by the Allied Supreme Commander should, without delay, be terminated and divided between Eisenhower and Montgomery, each to function in the zone occupied by his own troops.

I am advised it would be highly disadvantageous to our relations with the Soviet to postpone action in this matter until our meeting in July.

What is this source?

A copy of a telegram from President Truman to Churchill, 12 June 1945.

Background to this source

Germany’s surrender was a month past. The Allies had agreed at their conference in Yalta in February 1945 that they would divide Germany into zones of occupation run by the USA, the Soviet Union, Britain and France. At the end of the war US troops had advanced into territory which had been allocated to the Soviet zone. Churchill was really worried about how intransigent the Soviets were being over Eastern Europe. He had already complained to Truman about an 'Iron Curtain' splitting Europe in two, and was searching for ways to put pressure on the Soviets to stick to the agreements they had made at Yalta.

Additional information

Preparations were also under way for what would become the Potsdam Conference in July to finalise post-war arrangements, including plans for Germany. There was also a General Election campaign going on in Britain, and the polls showed Labour in the lead. The Conservative Party slogan, 'Let him finish the job,' reflected Churchill's focus on Europe and the post-war settlement.

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

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:

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?
Churchill wanted a way to put pressure on the Soviets to stick to their agreements

Truman still believed the Allies could work together to rebuild Europe

Churchill had a lot of influence on Truman

The Americans wanted the future of Germany settled quickly so they could focus on other things

The future of Germany was a more important issue for Churchill and Britain than it was for Truman and the United States

This source is helpful in understanding why Churchill made the Iron Curtain speech

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Need help interpreting the source?

  • The key issue in this source is whether Churchill was showing wisdom or bad faith. Because he did not trust the Soviets, he wanted the Americans to delay pulling their troops out of areas of Germany which had been agreed would be in the Soviet zone. Clearly this would be a breach of good faith. Churchill would have felt that the US were justified on the grounds of the difficult and obstructive attitude which the Soviets had shown.

Explore the guide to interpreting telegrams

Source 5

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