Churchill Archive for Schools - Themes_Key questions_Churchill and the

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

Source 6

Extract from Churchill's notes for the Iron Curtain speech


CHUR 5/4A-E/51-100

Simplified Transcript

…A shadow has fallen upon Europe, where the Allies so recently had their victory against Germany. Nobody knows what the Communists intend to do next and whether they plan to stop expanding their territory.

I admire the Russian people and their leader Marshal Stalin. There is deep goodwill in Britain towards Russia and a desire to keep a lasting friendship. We understand that the Russians need to feel that their western border has to be secure from any possible attack by Germany in the future. We welcome contact with Russia and its people. However, it is my duty to set out certain facts as I see them

From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has come down across Europe. Behind the curtain lie all the states of Eastern Europe. They are in what I call the Soviet sphere of influence. They are subject to tight control by Moscow. Only Greece is free at the moment.

The Polish government, dominated by Russian influence, is taking German territory and expelling Germans. The Communist parties of Eastern Europe have been put into power even though they have limited support in these countries. Police states are being set up and there is no true democracy except in Czechoslovakia. Turkey and Persia are both alarmed by the pressure being put on them by the Russians. ..

Original Transcript

…A shadow has fallen upon the scenes so lately lighted by the Allied victory. Nobody knows what Soviet Russia and its Communist international organization intends to do in the immediate future, or what are the limits, if any, to their expansive and proselytizing tendencies.

I hv [have] a strong admiration and regard for the valiant Russian people and for my wartime comrade, Marshal Stalin. There is sympathy and goodwill in Britain - and I doubt not here also - towards the peoples of all the Russias and a resolve to persevere through many differences and rebuffs in establishing lasting friendships. We understand the Russian need to be secure on her western frontiers fr [from] all renewal of German aggression. We welcome her to her rightful place among the leading nations of the world. Above all, we welcome, constant, frequent and growing contacts betw [between] the Russian people and our own people on both sides of the Atlantic. It is my duty however to place before you certain facts about the present position in Europe.

From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia, all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in the Soviet sphere and are all subject in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and in many cases increasing measure of control fr [from] Moscow. Athens alone, w [with] its immortal glories, is free to decide its future at an election under Brit. [British], American and French observation.

The Russian-dominated Polish Govt. [Government] has bn [been] encouraged to make enormous and wrongful inroads upon Germany, and mass expulsions of millions of Germans on a scale grievous and undreamed-of are now taking place. The Communist parties wh [which] were very small in all these Eastern States of Europe, hv bn [have been] raised to pre-eminence and power far beyond their numbers and are seeking everywhere to obtain totalitarian control. Police governments are prevailing in nearly every case, and so far, except in Czechoslovakia, there is no true democracy. Turkey and Persia are both profoundly alarmed and disturbed at the claims wh[which] are being made upon them and at the pressure being exerted by the Moscow Govt [government]…

What is this source?

A section of Churchill’s speaking notes for his speech at Fulton, Missouri, on 5 March 1946.

Background to this source

At the end of the Second World War the Soviet army controlled much of Eastern Europe and eastern Germany. The states occupied by Germany began to form their own new governments. In many of these countries the Communist parties either took control or became prominent. For the Soviet Union this was sensible politics, helping friendly communist parties in neighbouring states. To the west it looked like the Soviet Union was trying to conquer Eastern Europe, and then maybe go further.

Additional information

At this time Churchill was on vacation in the USA. He had met with President Truman, who had invited him to give a speech at Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri. Truman was also to be there. In January Truman had already expressed the view that 'he was tired of babying the Soviets'. There were tensions in Austria, in Germany and throughout Eastern Europe. The Red Army had also not, as agreed, withdrawn from northern Iran. Churchill, no longer Prime Minister, felt free to express his ideas a little more freely.

The extract presented includes the section of the speech which came to be seen as the essence of Churchill’s message and which Stalin chose to interpret as a ‘call to war with the Soviet Union’. Yet Churchill gave the speech the title “The Sinews of Peace” and also argued for a ‘special relationship’ between the English-speaking peoples (ie Britain and the United States) which should be used to ensure peace.

The combination of Churchill and Truman visiting this small town in the rural Midwest meant that Churchill’s speech was broadcast across the world. Stalin’s subsequent reaction to it alarmed the West and meant that Truman and Attlee distanced themselves from it, despite having approved Churchill’s message in advance. Truman had also seen Churchill’s final speaking notes during their 24 hour overnight train journey between Washington and Fulton.

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 Churchill, what are the aims of the Soviet Government?
  2. Does Churchill like Russia and its people?
  3. Which country has 'escaped' from the iron curtain? How?
  4. In what way is Poland a problem?
  5. What is happening in Germany that is a problem?
  6. How can the world be kept safe?

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?
Every problem is the fault of the Soviets

Communism and democracy do not mix

The best-known part of this speech, the third paragraph, is actually the least important to us as historians

The speech tells us more about Churchill than about international affairs

Download table (PDF)
Download table (Word document)

Need help interpreting the source?

  • It is worth pointing out that this extract contains notes, not the actual speech. Several different versions of the speech are in the complete file. The speech is important because of its content – warning about the threat from the Soviet Union. It is also interesting for its style and tone. It tries not to be overly aggressive.
  • A key question for historians is what Churchill thought the speech would achieve. Was he trying to warn about the Soviet threat? Was he trying to influence US policy? Truman later maintained he had not seen or read the speech before Churchill delivered it.

Explore the guide to interpreting speech notes

Source 7

 Back to sources page

 Back to investigation page