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

Source 6

Extract from a joint telegram from Churchill and President Truman to Stalin, dated 15 April 1945 (delivered 18 April 1945)


CHAR 20/214/132-133

Simplified Transcript

The big problem we have is that the Soviet side is not allowing our nominations for the new Polish government. You seem to us to have changed your position back to where it was before the Yalta Conference, which we found a compromise on at the time.

Original Transcript

The real issue between us is whether or not the Warsaw Government has the right to veto individual candidates for consultation. No such interpretation in our considered opinion can be found in the Crimea [Yalta] decision. It appears to us that you are reverting to the original position taken by the Soviet Delegation at the Crimea which was subsequently modified in the agreement.

What is this source?

This is an extract from a letter jointly written by Churchill and Truman to Stalin on 15 April 1945. The letter is marked ‘Personal and Top Secret’ and is a means of using direct contact with the Soviet dictator to address issues which had arisen following the agreements made at the Yalta conference.

Background to this source

In the period of time after the Yalta Conference the allies had sent delegations to Moscow to finalise the details of the agreement on the formation of a new Polish government. The objective was to fulfil the decisions of Yalta and create a government which could be recognised as democratic and legitimate by all sides, as well as being accepted by the Polish people (though in truth this was a lesser concern to the Big Three). Churchill felt that Stalin and his Soviet Delegation had blocked attempts by the Western powers to involve people they had chosen or supported in the new government. This led to a breakdown of talks and in Churchill’s eyes threatened the chances of creating a government for Poland that all sides could support.

Roosevelt died on 12 April 1945, two months after the end of the Yalta conference. This message to Stalin is sent from Churchill and the new president, Harry Truman, who had only been president for a few days. Before becoming President, Truman had only been Vice-President for three months and hadn’t been able to have much contact with the dying Roosevelt, so he had limited experience of international relations.

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. What is the issue Churchill and Truman wanted Stalin to understand?
  2. What do they think Stalin has done to the agreement at Yalta?

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 and Truman are feeling positive about the progress on Poland.

The Polish situation is getting out of control.

The Yalta decision has been ignored.

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Need help interpreting the source?

  • Churchill felt he needed to write a joint letter with Truman to Stalin to discuss the Polish situation. What does it suggest about the success of the commission whose task was to iron out the detail on this issue?
  • The letter states that Churchill and Truman feel that the Soviets have returned to their pre-conference position on Poland. What circumstances allowed the USSR to take this stance?
  • What does the fact that this letter is from two of the Big Three to the third member suggest about the overall effectiveness of their relationship as allies?
  • How far does this suggest that the Yalta conference was a success?
  • Was it significant that Truman wasn’t President at the time of the Yalta conference?
  • Do you think Stalin would have read this message as a joint statement from Churchill and Truman, or is it likely he thought that Churchill had a more significant role in sending the statement?

Explore the guide to interpreting telegrams

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