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How united were the Big Three at the Yalta Conference in 1945?

Source 2

Extract from a copy of a telegram from Churchill to Clement Attlee, 8 Feb 1945


CHAR 20/223/10-11

Simplified Transcript

About Poland. Roosevelt sent a letter to Stalin, which I was involved in drafting, saying there should be a new government for Poland containing people we all agree on rather than just the Soviets’ favourites. The Soviets seemed to agree to this today. We have asked for another day to look at it ourselves, and the foreign secretary will send you our ideas. We have not made a final agreement yet. We will work very hard to make sure the new Polish government is one we can all get on with, including the new United Nations organisation. For this to happen it needs to be made up of genuine representation from Polish politicians, and those listed by the Americans. If we can get 8 or 10 representatives sympathetic to us into the Polish government, we could then approve the government as a way to get Ambassadors into Poland so that we can see what’s going on and to try to establish a proper free election there. We hope you will grant us the freedom to negotiate over these difficult issues.


About Poland. Last night the president wrote an impressive letter to Stalin, after consultation with and amendment by us, proposing the existing Lublin Government should give place to a new All Polish Government, containing representatives both from the Poles abroad and those within Poland. To-day Wednesday the Russians put forward an answer in five or six heads [key points] which does not in principle challenge any of the broad issues. We have asked for delay till tomorrow, and the Foreign Secretary has drafted the following counter-proposal which is being telegraphed to you together with the original Soviet proposal. This matter is by no means settled. Our plan is to fight hard for a Polish Government which we and the United States can recognise and to which we can gather the recognition of all the United Nations. In return for this we must have substantial effective and real representation from the Polish element, with whom we have at present been associated, especially Mikolajcz, Romer, Grabski, together with a number of Poles still in Poland, Witos, Saphieba [Sapieha], etc., who have been listed by the Americans. If we can so arrange it that eight or ten of these are incorporated in the Lublin Government it would pay us to recognise this government straightaway in order to get Ambassadors and Missions into Poland where we can find out at least to some extent what is going on and whether we can lay the foundations for the free, fair and unfettered election which alone can give a Polish Government life and being. We hope you will give us full liberty to act and manoeuvre on this difficult ground.

What is this source?

This is an extract from a telegram from Churchill in Yalta to the Deputy Prime Minister (Clement Attlee) on 8 February 1945 marked "From: Argonaut" – the code name given to the Yalta Conference. The telegram is feeding back the day’s progress from the meetings to the War Cabinet and the British government in London. Churchill was accountable to his government colleagues and needed to ensure that he retained their support for the line he wanted to follow in negotiations.

Background to this source

Following the initial discussions on Poland there was no compromise agreement. However, Roosevelt filled his role as arbiter by stepping in to write a letter to Stalin asking for concessions which would allow the new Polish Government to at the very least include members of the exiled government based in London, as opposed to being purely made up of Stalin’s own preferred ‘Lublin Government’ which was sympathetic to Soviet ideas.

For Churchill it was important to include these pro-democracy members in the new government for ideological reasons, but also because they were considered allies, and they were dependent on him for carving out an agreement on the future of their country which they would be happy with.

How can we use this source in the investigation?

Remember we are hoping that this source can be useful to us in investigating how far the Yalta Conference showed unity between the Big Three on the future of Poland. Sources usually help historians in two ways:

Surface level: details, facts and figures

  1. Who is Churchill relying on to back him up on the Polish issue?
  2. What is most important to Churchill in the formation of the new Polish Government?
  3. What other organisation does Churchill feel is important to recognise the new Polish Government?

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 is successfully persuading Stalin of his ideas.

There is a positive feeling about reaching a compromise.

Relationships between the Big Three are strong.

Churchill wants his government to know that he supports the line Roosevelt is taking.

Churchill would like to get proof of Stalin’s trustworthiness.

Churchill is concerned that his government colleagues might not back him.

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Need help interpreting the source?

  • Churchill and Stalin were clearly not seeing eye to eye on how to reconstruct Poland. How far was Roosevelt’s role pivotal in forging an agreement?
  • When Churchill suggests that the matter is ‘by no means settled’ what does this suggest about his confidence in Stalin’s willingness to compromise?
  • How far is Churchill arguing for an outcome that suits his own priorities rather than that of the Polish government in exile in London?

Explore the guide to interpreting telegrams

Source 3

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