Churchill Archive for Schools - Themes_Key questions_Yalta Conference

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

Source 4

Extract from a telegram from Churchill to President Roosevelt, 8 March 1945, marked “Personal and Top Secret”


CHAR 20/212/76-80

Simplified Transcript

The news from the discussions in Moscow about the new Polish government is very disappointing. All political parties and social groups in the UK agree that the Soviets taking full control would be a bad thing for Poland. I have spoken in Parliament and defended the decisions of the Yalta conference as we made them in a friendly and positive way at the time. The USSR has tricked us and once people realise this here, they will be very angry. Would this be the same in the USA? I think it would.

Original Transcript

4. The news from Moscow about Poland is also most disappointing. I must let you know that the Government majorities here bear no relation to the strong under-current of opinion among all parties and classes and in our own hearts against a Soviet domination of Poland. Labour men are as keen as Conservatives, and Socialists as keen as Catholics. I have based myself in Parliament on the assumption that the words of the Yalta Declaration will be carried out in the letter and in the spirit. Once it is seen that we have been deceived and that the well-known Communist technique is being applied behind closed doors in Poland, either directly by the Russians or through their Lublin puppets, a very grave situation in British public opinion will be reached. How would the matter go in the United States? I cannot think that you personally or they would be indifferent.

What is this source?

This source is an extract from a telegram written by Churchill to President Roosevelt in the US on 8 March 1945. Churchill and Roosevelt wrote to each other regularly throughout the war, and Churchill would attempt to influence his compatriot through expressing his beliefs and ideas through them. Of course, email, and even phone calls were not an option at this time.

Background to this source

Following the completion of the Yalta Conference, the Big Three had made their decisions on the issues and gone their separate ways. However, in many cases those ‘final decisions’ were mere sketches and the detail would have to be worked out by ministers and committees at future meetings. The case of Poland was no different, and once the meetings began so did the political game of interpretation. Whilst the British and Americans saw the agreement at Yalta in one way which would give them influence over the make-up of the new Polish Government, the USSR delegates viewed it differently and felt that ‘their’ Lublin Government should be upheld with minimal change. With talks now reaching stalemate Churchill felt that his US ally needed to intervene to ensure the new Poland would be considered a legitimate state.

This telegram marks a significant change in Churchill’s attitude. He continued to advocate co-operation with the Soviets and warned against confrontation but he now began to say that he and Roosevelt had been deceived at Yalta and was keen to draw the line over Poland.

Churchill talks about all the political parties in Britain being opposed to Soviet domination of Poland. He was conscious that a British election would take place when the war ended and wished to remain popular with voters.

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. How does Churchill feel about the ongoing talks on Poland, taking place in Moscow?
  2. Who does Churchill think has deceived him and the Western allies?
  3. Does Churchill think Roosevelt would agree with his interpretation of the situation?

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 has lost faith in the process of diplomatic talks with the USSR.

There is division in the UK on Churchill’s interpretation.

Churchill feels that the Yalta agreements are being actioned ‘in the letter and in the spirit’.

Churchill was aware that the United States was stronger than Britain.

Churchill is trying to push Roosevelt into action.

Download table (PDF)
Download table (Word document)

Need help interpreting the source?

  • Churchill was a man of words, who used letters such as this to try to change the opinion of colleagues and compatriots. How is Churchill using language to try to influence Roosevelt in this source?
  • The phrase ‘in the letter and in the spirit’ is important in this passage. What do you think Churchill is trying to imply with this statement?
  • What does Churchill mean when he refers to ‘Lublin puppets’ and how does this show his feelings about the Yalta agreement?

Explore the guide to interpreting telegrams

Source 5

 Back to sources page

 Back to investigation page