The End of WWII

Yalta and the Postwar World

Convened in 1945, the Yalta Conference brought together Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin to discuss the postwar reorganization of Europe.

Learning Objectives

Analyze the controversies of the Yalta Conference, and the individual agendas of Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The Yalta Conference, sometimes called the “Crimea Conference,” was held February 4–11, 1945, in the Livadia Palace near Yalta in Crimea. It was one of the three major wartime meetings of the Allied powers. Franklin Roosevelt was seeking Soviet support in the Pacific theater, where the United States was still fighting Japan.
  • Winston Churchill hoped to secure free elections and democratic governments in Eastern and Central Europe.
  • Joseph Stalin wanted to secure the Soviet sphere of influence in Eastern and Central Europe, an essential aspect of the USSR’s national security strategy.
  • The postwar occupation and reorganization of Germany and the fate of East-Central Europe were the most controversial and critical issues discussed in Yalta. Stalin never honored his promise to hold free elections in Poland and other East-Central European countries that after the war became Soviet satellites.

Key Terms

  • Yalta Conference: A major wartime meeting of Allied powers, sometimes called the “Crimea Conference,” held February 4–11, 1945, in the Livadia Palace near Yalta in Crimea.
  • Treaty of Portsmouth: An agreement that formally ended the 1904–1905 Russo-Japanese War. It was signed on September 5, 1905, after negotiations lasting from August 6 to August 30, at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, in the United States.
  • Big Three: A term used to refer to the leaders of the three major Allied powers during World War II: Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin.

The Yalta Conference

The Yalta Conference, sometimes called the “Crimea Conference,” was held February 4–11, 1945,  in the Livadia Palace near Yalta in Crimea. It was one of the three major wartime meetings of Allied powers, together with the Tehran Conference in 1943 and the Potsdam Conference in July and August of 1945. The Yalta Conference was led by the heads of government of the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union, represented by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and General Secretary Joseph Stalin, for the purpose of discussing Europe’s postwar reorganization. Within a few years, with the Cold War dividing the continent, Yalta became a subject of intense controversy.

image

The “Big Three” at Yalta: Yalta summit in February 1945 with (from left to right) Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, and Joseph Stalin. Also present are USSR Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov (far right); Field Marshal Alan Brooke, Royal Navy Admiral of the Fleet Sir Andrew Cunningham, Marshal of the RAF Sir Charles Portal (standing behind Churchill); and Army Chief of Staff George Marshall and Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy, USN (standing behind Roosevelt).

Competing Agendas

The meeting was intended mainly to discuss the reestablishment of the nations of war-torn Europe. Each leader had his own agenda for the meeting. Roosevelt wanted Soviet support in the U.S. Pacific War against Japan, specifically in invading Japan. Churchill pressed for free elections and democratic governments in Eastern and Central Europe (specifically Poland). Stalin demanded a Soviet sphere of political influence in Eastern and Central Europe, an essential aspect of the USSR’s national security strategy.

Poland was the first item on the Soviet agenda. Stalin stipulated that Polish government-in-exile demands were not negotiable: The Soviet Union would keep the territory of eastern Poland they had already annexed in 1939, and Poland was to be compensated for that by extending its western borders at the expense of Germany. Comporting with his prior statement, Stalin promised free elections in Poland, despite the Soviet sponsored provisional government recently installed by him in Polish territories occupied by the Red Army.

Roosevelt wanted the USSR to enter the Pacific War with the Allies. One Soviet precondition for a declaration of war against Japan was an American recognition of Mongolian independence from China and a recognition of Soviet interests in the Manchurian railways and Port Arthur as well as deprivation of Japanese soil (such as Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands) to return to Russian custody since the Treaty of Portsmouth. These were agreed upon without Chinese representation or consent. Stalin agreed that the Soviet Union would enter the Pacific War three months after the defeat of Germany. Furthermore, the Soviets had agreed to join the United Nations, given the secret understanding of a voting formula with a veto power for permanent members of the Security Council, which thus ensured that each country could block unwanted decisions.

All three leaders ratified previous agreements about the postwar occupation zones for Germany: There were to be three zones of occupation, one zone for each of the three dominant nations (France would later get a portion when the United States and Great Britain divided up parts of their zones and gave them to France). Also, the “Big Three” agreed that all original governments would be restored to the invaded countries (with the exception of France, Romania, and Bulgaria; the Polish government-in-exile was also excluded by Stalin) and that all civilians would be repatriated.

Key Points

Key points of the meeting included the following:

  • Agreement to the priority of the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany.
  • After the war, Germany and Berlin would be split into four occupied zones. Stalin agreed that France would have a fourth occupation zone in Germany, but it would have to be formed out of the American and British zones.
  • Germany would undergo demilitarization and denazification.
  • German reparations were partly to be in the form of forced labor. The forced labor was to be used to repair damage Germany inflicted on its victims.
  • Creation of a reparation council that would be located in the Soviet Union.
  • It was agreed to reorganize the communist Provisional Government of the Republic of Poland that had been installed by the Soviet Union, “on a broader democratic basis.”
  • The Polish eastern border would follow the Curzon Line and Poland would receive territorial compensation in the West from Germany. Churchill alone pushed for free elections in Poland. The British leader pointed out that the United Kingdom, “could never be content with any solution that did not leave Poland a free and independent state.” Stalin pledged to permit free elections in Poland, but forestalled ever honoring his promise.
  • Citizens of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia were to be handed over to their respective countries, regardless of their consent.
  • Roosevelt obtained a commitment by Stalin to participate in the United Nations. Stalin requested that all of the 16 Soviet Socialist Republics would be granted U.N. membership. This was taken into consideration, but 14 republics were denied.
  • Stalin agreed to enter the fight against the Empire of Japan within 90 days after the defeat of Germany.
  • Nazi war criminals were to be hunted down and brought to justice.
  • A “Committee on Dismemberment of Germany” was to be set up. Its purpose was to decide whether Germany was to be divided into six nations.

Roosevelt’s Fourth Term

Roosevelt’s fourth term, ended by his death only three months after inauguration, was dominated by negotiations for the postwar settlement with Great Britain and the Soviet Union.

Learning Objectives

Examine the final months of Roosevelt’s fourth term before his death in 1945

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The U.S. presidential election of 1944 took place while the United States was preoccupied fighting World War II. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman won by a comfortable margin, defeating Republican opponent, New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey.
  • The most important development of Roosevelt’s final terms was representing the United States at the Yalta Conference, held February 4–11, 1945, in the Livadia Palace near Yalta in Crimea.
  • Some of the last actions of Roosevelt were meeting with Farouk I, king of Egypt, and Haile Selassie, emperor of Ethiopia; holding a historic meeting with King Abdulaziz, the founder of Saudi Arabia; and addressing Congress about the Yalta Conference.
  • After a period of declining health, Franklin Roosevelt died of a massive stroke on April 12, 1945.
  • Roosevelt’s death was met with shock and grief across the United States and around the world. His declining health had not been known to the general public. Less than a month after his death, on May 8, the war in Europe ended.

Key Terms

  • Yalta Conference: A wartime meeting (held February 4–11, 1945) of the heads of government of the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union, represented by FDR, Churchill, and Stalin, respectively, for the purpose of discussing Europe’s postwar reorganization. The meeting was intended mainly to discuss the reestablishment of the nations of war-torn Europe.

The Election of 1944

The U.S. presidential election of 1944 took place while the United States was preoccupied fighting World War II. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) had been in office longer than any other president, but remained popular. There was little doubt that Roosevelt would run in 1944 for another term as the Democratic candidate. His Republican opponent was New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey. Dewey ran an energetic campaign, but as expected, Roosevelt prevailed. Roosevelt replaced Vice-President Henry Wallace with Missouri Senator Harry S. Truman, best known for his battle against corruption and inefficiency in wartime spending. Roosevelt and Truman won by a comfortable margin, defeating Dewey and his running mate John W. Bricker with 53.4 percent of the popular vote and 432 out of the 531 electoral votes. The president campaigned in favor of a strong United Nations, so his victory symbolized support for the nation’s future participation in the international community.

The Final Term

The most important development of Roosevelt’s final terms was representing the United States at the Yalta Conference, held February 4–11, 1945, in the Livadia Palace near Yalta in Crimea. It was one of the major wartime meetings of Allied powers and was led by Roosevelt, U.K. Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and the Soviet Union’s General Secretary Joseph Stalin. The meeting was intended mainly to discuss the reestablishment of the nations of war-torn Europe. Each leader had his own agenda for the meeting. Roosevelt wanted Soviet support in the U.S. Pacific War against Japan, specifically in invading Japan. Churchill pressed for free elections and democratic governments in Eastern and Central Europe (specifically in Poland). Stalin demanded a Soviet sphere of political influence in Eastern and Central Europe, an essential aspect of the USSR’s national security strategy.

The President left the Yalta Conference on February 12, 1945, flew to Egypt and boarded the USS Quincy operating on the Great Bitter Lake near the Suez Canal. The next day, aboard the Quincy, he met with Farouk I, king of Egypt, and Haile Selassie, emperor of Ethiopia. On February 14, his historic meeting with King Abdulaziz, the founder of Saudi Arabia, established the subsequent special relationship between the two countries.

When Roosevelt returned to the United States, he addressed Congress on March 1 about the Yalta Conference, and many were shocked to see how old, thin, and frail he looked. He spoke while seated in the well of the House, an unprecedented concession to his physical incapacity. In March 1945, he sent strongly worded messages to Stalin accusing him of breaking his Yalta commitments over Poland, Germany, prisoners of war, and other issues. When Stalin accused the western Allies of plotting a separate peace with Hitler behind his back, Roosevelt replied: “I cannot avoid a feeling of bitter resentment towards your informers, whoever they are, for such vile misrepresentations of my actions or those of my trusted subordinates.”

Declining Health and Death

On March 29, 1945, Roosevelt went to the Little White House at Warm Springs, Georgia, to rest before his anticipated appearance at the founding conference of the United Nations. On the afternoon of April 12, Roosevelt said, “I have a terrific pain in the back of my head. ” He then slumped forward in his chair, unconscious, and was carried into his bedroom. The president’s attending cardiologist, Dr. Howard Bruenn, diagnosed a massive cerebral hemorrhage (stroke). At 3:35 p.m. that day, Roosevelt died.

On the morning of April 13, Roosevelt’s body was placed in a flag-draped coffin and loaded onto the presidential train. After a White House funeral on April 14, Roosevelt was transported back to Hyde Park by train, guarded by four servicemen, one each from the army, navy, marines, and coast guard. As was his wish, Roosevelt was buried in the Rose Garden of the Springwood estate, the Roosevelt family home in Hyde Park, on April 15. His wife, Eleanor, who died in November 1962, was buried next to him.

Roosevelt’s death was met with shock and grief across the United States and around the world. His declining health had not been known to the general public. Less than a month after his death, on May 8, the war in Europe ended. President Harry S. Truman, who turned 61 that day, dedicated Victory in Europe Day and its celebrations to Roosevelt’s memory, and kept the flags across the United States at half-mast for the remainder of the 30-day mourning period. Truman said that his only wish was, “that Franklin D. Roosevelt had lived to witness this day.”

image

FDR’s funeral procession: President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s funeral procession with horse-drawn casket down Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C., April 14, 1945.

The Final Ledger of Deaths

Although estimates remain controversial and statistics unreliable, World War II was the deadliest military conflict in history, resulting in around 50 to 80 million people being killed.

Learning Objectives

Summarize the final ledger of military and civilian deaths of World War II

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • World War II  was the deadliest military conflict in history. While it is commonly agreed that around 60 million people were killed, fatality statistics vary, with estimates of total dead ranging from 50 million to more than 80 million.
  • Compiling or estimating the numbers of deaths caused during wars and other violent conflicts is a controversial subject and historians note that available statistics are often unreliable. One of the challenges is the classification of casualties.
  • Military casualties include battle deaths (KIA) and personnel missing in action (MIA), as well as fatalities due to accidents and disease, and deaths of prisoners of war in captivity.
  • Civilian casualties include deaths caused by strategic bombing, Holocaust victims, victims of Japanese and other war crimes, deaths resulting from population transfers in the Soviet Union, and deaths due to war-related famine and disease.
  • Five countries suffered deaths of more than 10 percent of their population. While the Soviet Union lost the greatest absolute number of its residents, Poland lost the highest percentage of its population.
  • Of the total number of deaths in World War II, approximately 85 percent—mostly Soviet and Chinese—were on the Allied side and 15 percent were on the Axis side. Many of these deaths were caused by war crimes committed by German and Japanese forces in occupied territories.

Key Terms

  • Holocaust: Narrowly defined, a genocide in which Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany and its collaborators killed about six million Jews. In a broader sense, the systematic mass murder (democide) of 11 million people, namely 6 million Jews and 5 million Romanis, Slavs, homosexuals, and others, perpetrated by Nazi Germany shortly before and during World War II.

Estimation Challenges

World War II was the deadliest military conflict in history in absolute terms of total dead. While it is commonly agreed that around 60 million people were killed (about 3 percent of the 1940 world population), fatality statistics vary, with estimates of total dead ranging from 50 million to more than 80 million. Compiling or estimating the numbers of deaths caused during wars and other violent conflicts is a controversial subject and historians note that available statistics are often unreliable. One of the challenges is the classification of casualties. Military figures include battle deaths (KIA) and personnel missing in action (MIA), as well as fatalities due to accidents and disease, and deaths of prisoners of war in captivity. Civilian casualties include deaths caused by strategic bombing, Holocaust victims, victims of Japanese and other war crimes, deaths resulting from population transfers in the Soviet Union, and deaths due to war-related famine and disease. However, the distinction between military and civilian casualties caused directly by warfare and collateral damage is not always clear cut.

The higher figure of more than 80 million includes deaths from war-related disease and famine. Civilians killed totaled 50 to 55 million, including 19 to 28 million from war-related disease and famine. Total military dead ranges from 21 to 25 million, including deaths in captivity of about 5 million prisoners of war.

National Statistics

Research in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union has resulted in a revision of estimates of Soviet war dead. Estimated USSR losses within postwar borders now stand at around 27 million, including 8.7 million military and 19 million civilian deaths. The largest portion of military dead were 5.7 million ethnic Russians, followed by 1.3 million ethnic Ukrainians. A quarter of the people in the Soviet Union were wounded or killed. In August, 2009, the Polish Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) researchers estimated Poland’s dead at between 5.6 and 5.8 million. The German Army historian Dr. Rüdiger Overmans published a study in 2000 that estimated German military dead and missing at 5.3 million, mostly on the eastern front and during the final battles in Germany.

For nations that suffered huge losses, such as the USSR, China, Poland, Germany, and Yugoslavia, sources often give only the total estimated population loss caused by the war and a rough estimate of the breakdown of deaths caused by military activity, crimes against humanity, and war-related famine. Other numbers are often omitted, such as, for example, 19 to 25 million war-related famine deaths in the USSR, China, Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and India.

Of the total number of deaths in World War II, approximately 85 percent—mostly Soviet and Chinese—were on the Allied side and 15 percent were on the Axis side. Many of these deaths were caused by war crimes committed by German and Japanese forces in occupied territories. An estimated 11 to 17 million civilians died either as a direct or as an indirect result of Nazi ideological policies, including the systematic genocide of around 6 million Jews during the Holocaust, along with the murder of 5 to 6 million ethnic Poles and other Slavs (including Ukrainians and Belorussians), Roma, homosexuals, and other ethnic and minority groups. Hundreds of thousands (varying estimates) of ethnic Serbs, along with Roma and Jews, were murdered by the Axis-aligned Croatian Ustaše in Yugoslavia and retribution-related killings were committed after the war ended.

In Asia and the Pacific, between 3 million and more than 10 million civilians, mostly Chinese (estimated at 7.5 million), were killed by the Japanese occupation forces.

The mass-bombing of civilian areas, notably the cities of Warsaw, Rotterdam, and London, including the aerial targeting of hospitals and fleeing refugees by the German Luftwaffe, along with the bombing of Tokyo, and German cities of Dresden, Hamburg, and Cologne by the Western Allies may be considered as war crimes. The latter resulted in the destruction of more than 160 cities and the death of more than 600,000 German civilians. However, no positive or specific customary international humanitarian law with respect to aerial warfare existed before or during World War II.