Churchill - Katyn - Appeasement

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Churchill - Katyn - Appeasement

Post by Steve » 30 Sep 2019 19:35

It is often said that someone should not be appeased in the manner of Chamberlain and Munich. It is never said that someone should not be appeased in the manner of Churchill and Stalin. In 1938 Chamberlin did not know what Hitler intended doing in the future. In 1943 Churchill knew about the 1939 Soviet Nazi pact dividing Poland and the subsequent Soviet aggression against Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Rumania. He also knew in mid 1943 of at least one monstrous crime Stalin must have ordered.

On May 24 1943 the UK ambassador to the Polish Government in exile presented an analysis of the Katyn massacre to the Foreign Office. He thought that the Soviets were guilty of the massacre. “In handling the publicity side of the Katyn affair we have been constrained by the urgent need for cordial relations with the Soviet Government, to appear to appraise the evidence with more hesitation and lenience than we should do in forming a common-sense judgement on events occurring in normal times or in the ordinary course of our private lives; we have been obliged to give undue prominence to the tactlessness or impulsiveness of Poles; to restrain the Poles from putting their case clearly before the public; to discourage any attempt by the public and the press to probe the ugly story to the bottom. In general we have been obliged to deflect attention from possibilities which in the ordinary affairs of life would cry to high heaven for elucidation and to withhold the full measure of solicitude which, in other circumstances would be shown to acquaintances situated as a large number of Poles now are. We have in fact perforce used the good name of England like the murderers used the little conifers to cover up a massacre; and, in view of the immense importance of an appearance of Allied unity and of the heroic resistance of Russia to Germany, few will think that any other course would have been wise or right”.

Churchill forwarded the report to Roosevelt asking him to return it when read. Roosevelt’s response to the report is not known but Churchill’s is “if they are dead nothing we can do will bring them back”. A day before receiving the report Churchill had agreed with Stalin that there should be no Red Cross investigation since it would be “a fraud and its conclusions reached by terrorism”. Three days after receiving the report the British cabinet agreed to censure the Polish press and also Polish broadcasts on the BBC. Stalin was assured that “the cabinet here is determined to have proper discipline in the Polish press in Great Britain” about what was described as “atrocious Nazi propaganda”

I do not agree with the view that Chamberlain held a good hand at Munich and threw it away I think he did the best he could with a bad hand. Churchill however really did sacrifice the Poles on the altar of appeasement. Of course the argument can be made that he could not have done much if anything for them. I think he went further than not supporting them and sided with Stalin in negotiations. Stalin must surely have worked out that the British knew who had perpetrated the massacre but were too frightened of ruining relations with him to say anything. He had been given an advantage in negotiations with Churchill.

Taken from - Poland and the Poles in the Second World War - by Halik Kochanski pages 342/343 and Churchill by Clive Ponting page 653

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Re: Churchill - Katyn - Appeasement

Post by wm » 30 Sep 2019 22:00

That's true. Chamberlain was right, he merely gave peace one more chance. You should always try peace before sending millions of your citizens to death in war.

But Roosevelt committed an act of naked aggression against Poland by plotting to hand over Poland to Stalin and delegitimizing the perfectly lawful and supported by the Poles Polish Government in Exile.
It wasn't a mere "if they are dead", he expected from Stalin tangible political benefits in return, i.e., Stalin's support for the new post-war order.

Munich merely defined conditions, which if accepted by the Czechs would prevent the war with Germany the next day, the war Hitler wanted so much.
The Czechs could have accepted it or not. It was their choice.

But Poland was forced to do Roosevelt' biding at gunpoint. It's was my way or highway, the Poles refused and were destroyed politically.
By their allies.

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Re: Churchill - Katyn - Appeasement

Post by wm » 01 Oct 2019 07:05

As a communist, Stalin refused to make any distinction between democratic and fascist nations, though he no doubt considered the democracies less ruthless and perhaps less formidable as well. Stalin possessed no conceptual apparatus to enable him to forgo territory on behalf of goodwill, or "objective" reality for the mood of the moment. Therefore, he was bound to propose to his democratic Allies the same arrangements that he had asked of Hitler a year earlier.

Cooperation with Hitler had made him no more sympathetic to Nazism than his subsequent alliance with the democracies impelled him to appreciate the virtues of free institutions. He would take from each temporary partner whatever was possible through diplomacy, and seize by force whatever had not been granted to him freely - as long as he could do so without risking war. His lodestar remained the Soviet national interest as refracted through the prism of communist ideology. To paraphrase Palmerston, he had no friends, only interests.

Stalin had proved most ready to negotiate postwar aims when his military position was the most difficult. With the knife literally at his throat, he attempted to do so in December 1941, when Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden visited Moscow, and again in May 1942, when he sent Molotov to London and then to Washington. These efforts were thwarted, however, because Roosevelt was passionately opposed to any detailed discussion of peace aims.
After the battle of Stalingrad, Stalin became increasingly certain that the war would end with the Soviet Union in possession of most of the territories likely to be in dispute. Having less and less to gain from negotiations, Stalin entrusted the shape of the postwar world to the reach of his armies.

Churchill would have been quite prepared to enter a negotiation with Stalin about the postwar European order before Stalin was ever in a position to seize his prizes. After all, expansionist allies like Stalin had been encountered and overcome more than once in British history. Had Great Britain been more powerful, Churchill surely would have sought to extract practical settlements from Stalin while he was still in need of assistance - much as Castlereagh had obtained his allies' commitment to the freedom of the Low Countries well before the end of the Napoleonic Wars.
[...]
As the war went on, it became more and more apparent that Great Britain's traditional goal of maintaining a balance of power in Europe was moving out of reach and that, after unconditional surrender was imposed on Germany, the Soviet Union would emerge as the dominant nation on the Continent, especially if the United States withdrew its forces.

Churchill's wartime diplomacy therefore consisted of maneuvering between two behemoths - both of which threatened Great Britain's position, albeit from opposite directions. Roosevelt's advocacy of worldwide self-determination was a challenge to the British Empire; Stalin's attempt to project the Soviet Union into the center of Europe threatened to undermine British security.

Trapped between Wilsonian idealism and Russian expansionism, Churchill did his best, from a position of comparative weakness, to vindicate his country's ancient policy- that, if the world is not to be left to the strongest and the most ruthless, peace must be based on some kind of equilibrium.
Three Approaches to Peace: Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill in World War II by Henry Kissinger

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Re: Churchill - Katyn - Appeasement

Post by Steve » 01 Oct 2019 21:31

No doubt there are lots of things Churchill would have done differently if Britain had been as powerful as in the days of Castlereagh just as there are lots of things I would do differently if I was wealthy. Being on a beach in Hawaii rather than typing this comes to mind. Kissenger is a very erudite writer but I think he has transposed his view on how he would have dealt with the war time situation onto Churchill. I would suggest that there is little evidence that Churchill was an able negotiator with a long term strategic aim along the lines Kissenger suggests.

Once the Soviet Union was in the war his aim was to keep them in the war. Did he give any serious consideration to the consequences of the Red Army moving into central Europe beyond a half baked scheme of landing in the Balkans? Poland was handed to Stalin on a plate and the London Poles betrayed in return for what? Churchill never understood until it was to late the true nature of Stalin or what he was after. He wanted the USA in the war and wanted them to fully commit to Europe first while not looking too closely at the British Empire. That Britain was eventually going to be not just a junior partner in this alliance but dependant on the USA was inevitable but did he comprehend this from the beginning?

Prior to Munich Chamberlain said he did not want to see the Red Army in Vienna he also thought that war would mean a draining of British financial strength and dependence on the USA. Churchill probably would have agreed with this but only when it was obvious. However, he was the right man in the right place in 1940.

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Re: Churchill - Katyn - Appeasement

Post by Tom from Cornwall » 04 Oct 2019 15:51

Steve
Steve wrote:
01 Oct 2019 21:31
Poland was handed to Stalin on a plate and the London Poles betrayed in return for what?
WW2 was a tragedy for the Poles, but neither Churchill nor Roosevelt "handed" it "to Stalin on a plate" - grim geopolitical reality and Soviet military strength made that inevitable.

Even Castlereagh would have recognised that as would Palmerston.

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Tom

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Re: Churchill - Katyn - Appeasement

Post by OpanaPointer » 04 Oct 2019 15:56

Compare the numbers of British and American forces on the Russian Front to the numbers of Soviet troops there.
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Re: Churchill - Katyn - Appeasement

Post by Steve » 05 Oct 2019 01:23

Let me put my argument this way. Supposing a large gang of desperadoes turn up outside my house to rob me, it would inevitably happen because I could not stop them alone. However, it would be very strange if my supposedly good neighbour offered to help them carry the furniture out.

What happened when Churchill met Stalin in October 1944 in Moscow and discussed Poland surely trumps what happened at Munich in 1938. Churchill, Stalin, the Polish Prime Minister Mikolajczyk, the USA ambassador plus aids met on the 13th. The meeting needs to be put into the context of a previous meeting on the 9th between the big two. There Churchill had suggested to Stalin that if he supported Britain against the Americans in getting back its Far East Empire he would support Stalin, subject to certain agreements, in Eastern Europe.

At the meeting on the 13th Churchill thought that Mikolajczyk should compromise with the communist Lublin Committee. A new government would be formed with the communists having a larger share than any other political party which meant that they and their allies would dominate it. He also wanted Mikolajczyk to discuss a new constitution for Poland with both the Soviet Government and the Lublin Committee. Mikolajczyk offered to include some communists in his government and make an alliance with the Soviet Union, he would not accept the Lublin committee as a government. The question of Poland’s eastern border and the Curzon Line was now discussed. Mikolajczek argued against the Curzon Line but Molotov (Soviet Foreign Minister) told him that it was all settled at the Tehran conference which had occurred at the end of November 1943. Churchill and the American ambassador said nothing, Molotov looked at them and said “if your memory fails you, let me recall the facts”, which he proceeded to do. Mikolajczek said that he looked at the US ambassador and Churchill silently begging them to say it was a lie. The US ambassador looked down at the rug, Churchill looked straight at him. The Polish group now in shock withdrew from the room.

Churchill later met the Lublin Poles and asked them to compromise. He described them as “a kind of inverted Quislings” and Anthony Eden (Foreign Minister) described their leaders as “the rat and the weasel”. Clearly this was no barrier to a coalition government with the London Poles. The next day Churchill met Mikolajczyk and completely lost his temper. He told the Poles that if they refused to compromise he would have to denounce the government in exile publically. They were callous people who wanted to wreck Europe …… this Lublin Government may function very well, it will be the government. There is quite a lot more along the same lines. Mikolajczyk managed to get a word in and was told that the Polish delegation had better not return to London as the British Government would probably withdraw its “hospitality”.

It is clear that what Stalin wanted with regard to Poland Churchill was prepared to help him with. Of course Churchill could not stop him taking Poland but to go back to the metaphor I used at the start he did not have to help him carry the furniture out of the house. His reason for siding with Stalin in October 1944 would appear to be so that he could have Stalin’s support in maintaining the British Empire. Is there anything here that can be construed as maintaining a balance of power in Europe a la Castlereagh?

As well as two previously mentioned sources I have used “The Great Powers and Poland 1919 – 1945” by Jan Karski.

I have compared the number of UK and USA forces on the Russian front with the number of Soviet troops and found a massive mismatch. The same is true about the number of Soviet troops on the western front compared with UK and USA troops. I have also looked at the amount of UK and especially USA equipment on the Russian front in the form of tanks, planes, trucks, jeeps, boots, railway equipment etc etc etc. There is a mountain of it. I have looked on the western front for a corresponding amount of Soviet equipment and found nothing, not even a molehill. Does this tell us something?

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Re: Churchill - Katyn - Appeasement

Post by Sid Guttridge » 05 Oct 2019 11:27

Hi Steve,

Presuming you are right, what, exactly, was Churchill meant to do about it in the midst of a war that had not yet turned decisively in Allied favour? The Red Army was doing most of the killing and dying against Germany, which had killed some 3,000,000 Polish Jews and nearly as many other Polish civilians. Are the 4,500 Katyn Poles (and some 15,000 others killed elsewhere) equal in the balance with all of them?

Sometimes one has to make difficult differential decisions. This was one of them.

Given that the Red Army was doing most of the killing of German troops (a percentage much higher in mid-1943 than the 80% achieved at war's end), would it really have been in Allied or Polish interest to stop supplying them with lean-lease? This would have extended the war and the Western Allies would probably have had to do more of the fighting and dying than they actually did in order to compensate for weakening the Red Army. It should be remembered that as many Soviet people were dying every day over 1941-45 as the Soviets had killed Poles at Katyn and elsewhere.

You also seem to overlook other factors. The territorial compromise that Churchill urged on the Poles was pretty much the same as the frontier recommended on ethnic majority grounds by the Curzon Committee in 1919. It is also pretty much identical to Poland's eastern frontier today. See the map on: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Curzon_line_en.svg

Because of its victory over the Red Army in 1921, during the interwar years, Poland's eastern frontier was arguably well east of areas where Poles were in a majority. When the UK and France had guaranteed Poland in 1939 a secret clause specified that this was only against Germany precisely because Poland had territorial disputes with most of its other neighbours (Lithuania, USSR, Czechoslovakia). Why should Churchill be expected to uphold the right of the Poles to continue ruling unwilling Ukrainians and Byelorussians, especially when Curzon (a Briton) had recommended otherwise in 1919?

Just as Germany was shorn of its non-German majority areas at Versailles and Hungary lost non-Hungarian majority areas at Trianon, so Poland suffered the same fate due to WWII. However, unlike them, it received compensatory territory off Germany - virtually the only territorial punishment Germany got.

Churchill upheld his agreement to go to war beside Poland against Germany and stayed in it until Germany was defeated. (The French suffered a national humiliation in trying to do the same.) Churchill had no contractual obligation to defend Poland against anyone else except Germany.

One may admire the fortitude of the Poles in many ways, but they were not the most pragmatic of states.

Cheers,

Sid.

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Re: Churchill - Katyn - Appeasement

Post by Tom from Cornwall » 06 Oct 2019 17:08

Oh,

and you shouldn't dismiss the Allies desire to get Soviet agreement to join in the war against Japan. This being well before the Manhattan Project delivered a workable device.

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Re: Churchill - Katyn - Appeasement

Post by OpanaPointer » 06 Oct 2019 21:11

Tom from Cornwall wrote:
06 Oct 2019 17:08
Oh,

and you shouldn't dismiss the Allies desire to get Soviet agreement to join in the war against Japan. This being well before the Manhattan Project delivered a workable device.

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Tom
Stalin agreed to joining the war against Japan at the Potsdam Conference. Truman was advised (at that conference) that the Trinity Test was successful before Stalin stated his agreement.
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Re: Churchill - Katyn - Appeasement

Post by Steve » 07 Oct 2019 00:54

Hi, Churchill had the Katyn report six months before the Tehran conference in November 43 and it was clear by then that Germany was going to lose. By the time of the October 1944 Moscow conference the war in Europe was nearly over. Are you intimating Sid that Churchill knew that the Nazis had murdered three million Polish Jews and he therefore considered the Soviet murder of thousands of Polish officers a thing of no consequence when set alongside this crime? If Churchill was judging Stalin by the standards of Hitler he was a moral bankrupt.

Withdrawing lend Lease may well have been the same as shooting yourself in the foot but it was never going to be an option without Roosevelt’s agreement. My post is not about how the two western allies dealt with Stalin but only about how Churchill did. He clearly ignored Stalin’s crimes, gave way to him on Eastern Europe and threw the London Poles under the bus. For those who support Churchill’s policy towards Stalin they need to show that it resulted in post war gains for the UK that would not have come about otherwise. My argument is that if Churchill had gone to Moscow and stubbed his cigar out on Stalin’s head the difference for post war Europe would have been negligible. Maybe he could not save the London Poles but he could have done the honourable thing and supported them. After the war Britain did not invite Polish forces that fought in the west to participate in the victory parade. That says it all really.

I am not disagreeing that the Curzon Line with some changes may have been a fair line to base the frontier on. Some areas east of the line though had never been Russian and the Western Ukraine no more wanted Soviet rule than it wanted Polish rule. That the Soviets had a better claim to all of the area than the Poles is a moot point. The London Poles may have eventually agreed to most of the new frontier if they could have kept Lwow. That they were not told about what had been decided at Tehran until informed by Molotov at a conference in Moscow surely counts as a betrayal.

True there was no contractual obligation to defend Poland against anyone other than Germany in the 1939 treaty. However, I think that Churchill did break the 1939 treaty with Poland.

Article VI (1) The Contracting Parties will communicate to each other the terms of any undertakings of assistance against aggression which they have already given or may give to other states.

(2) Should either of the contracting Parties intend to give such an undertaking after the coming into force of the present agreement, the other Contracting Party shall, in order to insure the proper functioning of the Agreement, be informed thereof.

There is a third paragraph to Article VI but I don’t think it makes a difference to my point

Part three of the secret protocol gives an interpretation of the above text: - The undertakings mentioned in Article V1 of the agreement, should they be entered into by one of the Contracting Parties with a third state, would of necessity be so framed that their execution should at no time prejudice either the sovereignty or territorial inviolability of the Contracting Party.

Surely the agreement made at Tehran about the Curzon Line violated the territorial inviolability of one of the contracting parties and it was not the British.

I may be wrong but I seem to remember that the Americans had no interest in British forces participating in their Pacific campaign. They did want the USSR to tie down the large Japanese army in Manchuria and Korea if they invaded Japan. It was the USA rather than the British for whom Soviet participation was very important. At Tehran Stalin had agreed to enter the war against Japan after Germany was defeated. Apparently the Soviet transcript of the Tehran conversation omits this. I don’t think Churchill brought up the subject of Japan at the October 44 meeting in Moscow.

I feel the urge for a cup of British tea and some soothing Krautrock on the stereo after that effort.

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Re: Churchill - Katyn - Appeasement

Post by Sid Guttridge » 07 Oct 2019 11:52

Hi Steve,

I have little time now, but will address one point.

You posted: "For those who support Churchill’s policy towards Stalin they need to show that it resulted in post war gains for the UK that would not have come about otherwise."

I would go further, and say that one can point to gains for Poland as well. For all the rigours of the Soviet presence over 1944-1990, relatively few Poles died. The Cold War was effectively an extension of the WWII struggle of liberal democracy against authoritarianism. Victory in it was not only achieved with relatively few Polish fatalities, but few British or other deaths either, at least in Europe.

Churchill could have been more stern with Stalin, but to what effect? Stalin already had boots on the ground all across East/Central Europe by late 1944. If he failed to see the error of his ways as pointed out by Churchill and withdraw voluntarily, what was the alternative? WWIII? The Cold War was certainly cheaper in lives than that. Besides, withdraw how far? Should the UK have gone to war with the USSR to restore Poland's inter-war eastern boundary, even though it had itself recommended in 1919 pretty much the same boundary as Stalin imposed after WWII and had no obligation to do so?

Not only did Churchill stay in the war the UK had declared on behalf of Poland to the end, but the UK and NATO eventually broke the USSR through the Cold War with minimal loss of life, albeit at the cost of two generations of sterile lives in Eastern Europe.

I, too, am uncomfortable about the way the London Poles were treated by the UK, particularly their absence from the victory parade, but did this not occur under the post-war Labour Government, rather than under Churchill?

Cheers,

Sid

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Re: Churchill - Katyn - Appeasement

Post by Steve » 08 Oct 2019 01:58

Hi, did Churchill realy do as much as a reasonable person could expect him to have done in his dealing with Stalin?

Even if there is nothing much you can do to prevent a crime you do not help a criminal commit a crime. In British law it is called being an accessory after the fact and is a criminal offence. At Moscow in October 1944 Churchill proposed to Stalin that they divide Europe into spheres of influence. Poland would go to the USSR, not surprisingly he did not pass this information on to the Polish government in London, Rumania, Hungary and Bulgaria also. Apparently there was no mention of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia so presumably it was accepted they were staying in the USSR. Part of Germany was also going too occupied by the USSR. At least Chamberlain only agreed to Hitler having the Sudeten part of Czechoslovakia.

There is a great bit in Churchill’s Iron Curtain speech from 1946 about the ancient states and capitals of Eastern Europe being in the Soviet sphere of influence. I wonder if when he making those remarks he remembered how he had agreed with Stalin that they could be in the Soviet sphere of influence.

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Re: Churchill - Katyn - Appeasement

Post by Sid Guttridge » 08 Oct 2019 17:53

Hi Steve,

You ask, ….."did Churchill really do as much as a reasonable person could expect him to have done in his dealing with Stalin?"

I don't know, but there are few circumstances in which the optimum course is taken throughout, and this is probably no exception. However, it is difficult to foresee a better outcome that did not involve mass British and other casualties.

You post, "I wonder if when making those remarks he remembered how he had agreed with Stalin that they could be in the Soviet sphere of influence." The Percentages Agreement was an attempt to retain some influence in areas where there already were, or were inevitably going to be, Red Army, rather than Anglo-American, boots on the ground. It was not a gratuitous gift, but a pragmatic recognition of hard reality.

You post, "At least Chamberlain only agreed to Hitler having the Sudeten part of Czechoslovakia.". Chamberlain and the UK had no treaty obligations to Czechoslovakia, unlike the French and Soviets. However, he did acquiesce in Sudetenland going to Germany. The alternative of war, however, was not yet practicable. How, for instance, was he to justify going to war on behalf of a Czechoslovakia to which he had no treaty obligations in order to allow it to continue ruling over 3,000,000 Germans living in consolidated blocks next to the Reich border who largely wanted union with that Reich? He did, however, lay the trip wire that eventually led to war by guaranteeing Poland immediately Hitler breached the Munich Agreement.

Cheers,

Sid

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Re: Churchill - Katyn - Appeasement

Post by Steve » 09 Oct 2019 02:17

Hello, it is unlikely that whatever Churchill did the outcome in 1945 would have been any different. Though the outcome may not have been different that in my opinion is not an excuse for conniving with a mass murderer (which Churchill knew he was) and abandoning your ally. It can of course be said that this is realpolitik but if you practice realpolitik then there has to be a gain at the end of it and while I can see a gain for Stalin I fail to see any commensurate gain for Churchill.

The percentage agreement is perhaps the oddest and naïve incident in Churchill’s dealings with Stalin. What is a 10% influence in a country supposed to give you, perhaps a non communist mister of roads? Was it going to stop Stalin imposing a communist government on say Hungary? There is an explanation for the strange percentage agreement and it is that Churchill quite liked Stalin and believed him while Stalin had worked Churchill out played to his vanity.

In conversations with Anthony Eden (sources given) Churchill thought that Stalin was a moderate but behind him were extremist and that he could be trusted. The first one was in March 43. Apparently there were two forces in the Soviet Union: “(a) Stalin himself, personally cordial to me, (b) Stalin in Council, a grim thing behind him, which we and he have to reckon with. But he was optimistic that the Soviet Union was changing for the better”. In January 44 he told Eden of “the deep seated changes which have taken place in the character of the Russian state and government, the new confidence which has grown in our hearts towards Stalin – these have all had their effect”. In August 1944 he told Air Marshall Tedder that Stalin was “just a peasant” and he knew how to handle him.

The London Poles were a pain in the backside so why should he support them against that nice communist chap in Moscow who he could handle.

Source for the Eden quote is Churchill by Clive Ponting page 660/661 and his source is Foreign Office (FO) 954/26 18.3.43 and Prime Minister’s Office (PREM) 3/399/6, 16.1.44

P.S. I agree over Czechoslovakia.

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