“Operation Unthinkable”: Churchill`s plan for krig mod Sovjetunionen i 1945

Oktober 1988 *

“Den utænkelige plan”: OM CHURCHILL´S PLAN FOR KRIG MOD SOVJET 1945


I begyndelsen af oktober 1988 – mere end 43 år efter afslutningen af den Anden Verdenskrig – kunne britisk presse offentligøre omridset at en plan forfattet af den britiske premierminister Winston Churchill. De tophemmelige dokumenter afslører en plan om at indlede en Anglo-Amerikansk krig mod det socialistiske Sovjet , efter at krigen i Europa var fuldstændigt afsluttet. Churchill’s militære generalstabs-komité – Chiefs of Staff committee – afviste dog planen – ikke fordi man havde moralske skrupler – men af militære årsager, uden tvivl. Ikke mindst gav den Røde Hærs nedkæmpning af de tysk-fascistiske forsvarstyrker omkring hovedstaden Berlin en overbevisende styrkebesked om at Stalins Røde Hær ikke var træt, trods fire års kamp mod nazityskland og deres europæiske allierede. Desuden har den britiske militær-ledelse uden tvivl skelet til den stærke solidaritet og sympati med Stalins Sovjet som var udbredt i Europa og i Amerika efter befrielsen i 1945 ikke mindst i den britiske arbejderklasse.
Uddrag af planen blev trykt i Daily Telegraph (1.Oktober, 1998)
Ifølge avisen Daily Telegraph-journalisten Ben Fenton, begyndte Churchill tidligt at udtænke planer for en aggression mod Stalins Sovjet.
Churchill forberedte sine planer politisk og ideologisk med at fremmane de anti-kommunistiske myter og teser om at “Sovjet havde aggresive planer” mod Vesten som Nazityskland havde opfundet. De antikommunistiske og i sit væsen også antirussiske feberfantasier som var blevet kogt sammen i Dr.Goebbels nazifascistiske propagandalaboratorium blev nu “genopfundet” af de aggressive vestlige imperialistiske politikere.

Sovjetunionens Flag på toppen af Rigsdags-bygningen i Berlin i maj 1945 symboliserer Den røde Hærs, modstandsfolkenes og de antifascistiske allieredes sejr over fascismen. * *
Planen om en britisk militær aggression mod Stalins Sovjet ;”Den utænkelige Plan”, eller “Operation Unthinkable” var en del af den hemmelige rapport: “Russia Threat to Western Civilization” var klar allerede den 22. maj 1945, ikke engang en måned efter befrielsen.
Her er et uddrag af de britiske aviser beskrivelse af baggrunden fior Churchill´s “Utænkelige Plan” :

“efter V.E. Day on May 8, 1945, the Russians could move westwards and threaten Britain. Churchill’s view was that an assault against the Soviet Union would be the only solution, and that it would have to be mounted before the Americans withdrew the best of their forces for combat in the Pacific. Churchill ordered his staff to “think the unthinkable,” and draft a plan. The report which resulted, named “Operation Unthinkable,” was delivered to Churchill on May 22, by his Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Sir Hastings Ismay. This was five days after German Admiral Doenitz had formally surrendered.”

“Operation Unthinkable”

The scenario for this “Third World War,” which was to have started on July 1, went as follows:

“Operation Unthinkable”
“The overall political or political object is to impose upon Russia the will of the United States and British Empire….

“Even though `the will’ of these two countries may be defined as no more than a square deal for Poland, that does not necessarily limit the military commitment.
“A quick success might induce the Russians to submit to our will at least for the time being; but it might not.
“That is for the Russians to decide. If they want total war, they are in a position to have it….
“To achieve the decisive defeat of Russia in a total war would require, in particular, the mobilisation of manpower to counteract their present enormous manpower resources.
“This is a very long-term project and would involve: a) the deployment in Europe of a large proportion of the vast resources of the United States. b) the re-equipment and re-organisation of German manpower and of all the Western European Allies.”
Opting for a limited war, given that total war would be unwinnable, Churchill’s team, according to Fenton’s account, planned “an attack by 47 British and American divisions, 14 of which would be armored, on a two-pronged offensive, one part along the Baltic coast of Germany towards Stettin [Szczecin], the second further south towards Poznan, both cities being well inside Poland.” Ten Polish divisions were supposed to join in, as well as 10 German divisions, rearmed “under a reformed German High Command.”
According to an appendix to the report, entitled “German reactions to conflict between Western Allies and Russia,” the team considered the possibility of having up to 100,000 Germans engaged:

“War-weariness will be the predominant feature of the attitude of the German civil population. However, ingrained fear of the Bolshevik menace and of reprisals by the Russians should make the German civil population prefer Anglo-American to Russian occupation and therefore incline it to side with the Western Allies.”

The plan which emerged, according to Fenton’s summary, was that,

“as infantry attacked westwards, the Royal Navy would sail along the Baltic coast, supporting the attack’s left flank and harrying the Russian right almost unopposed. The RAF and USF would operate from bases in Denmark and northern Germany, outnumbered by the Russians, but with superior machinery,” Fenton wrote.

Operation Unthinkable assessed the situation as follows:

“Superior handling and air superiority might enable us to win the battle, but there is no inherent strength in our strategic position and we should, in fact, be staking everything upon the tactical outcome of one great engagement.”

Churchill’s team considered that Russian retaliation could include attempts to take over Norway, Turkey, Greece, and the oil fields in Persia and Iraq. Thus, they argued:

“If we are to embark on war with Russia, we must be prepared to be committed to a total war, which would be both long and costly.”

They added:

“Our numerical inferiority on land renders it extremely doubtful whether we could achieve a limited and quick success, even if the political appreciation considered that this would suffice to gain our political object.”

“A Protracted War Against Heavy Odds”

The report on Operation Unthinkable, was then handed over to the Chiefs of Staff committee, which included Gen. Sir Alan Brooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Admiral of the Fleet Sir David Cunningham, the First Sea Lord, and the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles Portal. On June 8, the senior officers replied that, considering the numerical superiority of Russian divisions (264 to 103), a different approach should be taken.

“It is clear from the relative strength of the respective land forces that we are not in a position to take the offensive with a view to achieving a rapid success.

“Since, however, Russian and allied land forces are in contact from the Baltic to the Mediterranean, we are bound to become involved in land operations. In support of our land forces we should have technically superior, but numerically inferior, tactical air forces.
“As regards Strategic Air Forces, our superiority in numbers and technique would be to some extent discounted by the absence of strategical targets compared to those which existed in Germany, and the necessity for using these strategic air forces to supplement our tactical air forces in support of land operations.
“Our views, therefore, that once hostilities began, it would be beyond our power to win a quick but limited success and we should be committed to a protracted war against heavy odds.
“These odds, moreover, would become fanciful if the Americans grew weary and indifferent and began to be drawn away by the magnet of the Pacific War.”
Churchill, having received the response of his military officers, wrote to Ismay on June 8, saying, considering American redeployments and possible Russian advances westwards, “Pray have a study made of how then we could defend our island, assuming France and the Low Countries were powerless to resist the Russian advance to the sea.” Churchill ended his letter, “By retaining the codeword `Unthinkable,’ the Staffs will realise this remains a precautionary study of what, I hope, is still a purely hypothetical contingency.” The study Churchill commissioned was presented on July 22.

fra Operation Unthinkable
Storbritaniens planer om at bombe Sovjetiske oliefelter omkring Baku anskueligjorde Winston “Churchill’s manglende tiltro SovetUnionens’s evne til at slå Adolf Hitler” – – – skriver de britiske medier, men forklarer ikke hvorfor Churchill gang på gang fandt undskyldninger for at udskyde den Anden Front i Europa – – – “and the suspicion and subterfuge that would eventually lead to the Cold War. (by Patrick R. Osborn)

Rakesh Krishnan Simha skriver

I begyndelsen af Maj  1945, da alle fejrede befrielsen “as people everywhere celebrated the end of World War II, one gloomy figure was planning to start World War III. The ink had barely dried on Germany’s surrender document when British Prime Minister Winston Churchill asked his War Cabinet to draw up a plan to invade the Soviet Union.

The gobsmacked generals were asked to devise means to “impose upon Russia the will of the United States and the British Empire”. Churchill assured them the invasion would be led by the United States and supported by the defeated German Army.

Churchill’s belligerence was due to several factors. In Winston’s War, Max Hastings writes Churchill’s satisfaction at seeing the downfall of the Nazis was “almost entirely overshadowed” by Russian victories in Eastern Europe.

By 1945, the USSR was vastly stronger and Britain a lot weaker than Churchill had anticipated. As he remarked at the Yalta Conference in February 1945: “On one hand the big Russian bear, on the other the great American elephant, and between them the poor little British donkey.”

Secondly, Churchill’s stance against the Soviets hardened after he came to know about the success of the American atomic bomb programme. According to Alan Brooke, Britain’s Chief of Army Staff, Churchill told him at the Potsdam Conference in July 1945: “We can tell the Russians if they insist on doing this or that, well we can just blot out Moscow, then Stalingrad, then Kiev, then Sevastopol.”

Finally, following Moscow’s barring of British representatives from Prague, Vienna and Berlin, as well as Stalin’s decision to paint Poland red, the British leader’s misery magnified.

Thinking the Unthinkable

Asked to prepare for war just days after the end of the bloodiest conflict in history, the British generals thought the Prime Minister had really lost it. Brooke wrote in his diary: “Winston gives me the feeling of already longing for another war.”

The generals drew up a plan, appropriately codenamed Operation Unthinkable, which proposed Western forces attack the Soviets on a front extending from Hamburg in the north to Trieste in the south.

The War Cabinet listed out the total allied strength in Europe on July 1, 1945: 64 American divisions, 35 British and Dominion divisions, 4 Polish divisions, and 10 German divisions. The German divisions were purely imaginary because after the mauling they received from the Russians, the surviving soldiers were in no hurry to fight. At most, the allies would have mustered 103 divisions, including 23 armoured ones.

Against this force were arrayed 264 Soviet divisions, including 36 armoured. Moscow commanded 6.5 million troops – a 2:1 advantage – on the German border alone. Overall, it had 11 million men and women in uniform.

In aircraft, the Allied Tactical Air Forces in North West Europe and the Mediterranean consisted of 6,714 fighter planes and 2464 bombers. The Soviets had 9380 fighter aircraft and 3380 bombers.

Sizing up Russia

As the Germans had discovered, war against Russia was certainly not a walk in the park. The War Cabinet stated: “The Russian Army has developed a capable and experienced High Command. The army is exceedingly tough, lives and moves on a lighter scale of maintenance than any Western army, and employs bold tactics based largely on disregard for losses in attaining its objective.

“Equipment has improved rapidly throughout the war and is now good. Enough is known of its development to say that it is certainly not inferior to that of the great powers.

“The facility the Russian have shown in the development and improvement of existing weapons and equipment and in their mass production has been very striking. There are known instances of the Germans copying basic features of Russian armament.”

The assessment, signed by the Chief of Army Staff on June 9, 1945, concluded: “It would be beyond our power to win a quick but limited success and we would be committed to a protracted war against heavy odds. These odds, moreover, would become fanciful if the Americans grew weary and indifferent and began to be drawn away by the magnet of the Pacific war.”

Worse than the V-2

On June 10, 1945 Churchill replied: “If the Americans withdraw to their zone and move the bulk of their forces back to the United States and to the Pacific, the Russians have the power to advance to the North Sea and Atlantic. Pray have a study made of how then we could defend our island.”

To this, the generals said the Russians might attempt to attack the British Isles after they had reached the Atlantic, by cutting sea communications, invasion, air attack, and rocket or other new methods.

While the Channel would check an invasion for the time being, the British were worried about other threat scenarios. “It is possible the Russian Air Force would attempt to attack all types of important targets in the UK with its existing aircraft.”

Rockets posed the gravest threat. “The Russians are likely to make full use of new weapons, such as the rocket and pilotless aircraft….We must expect a far heavier scale of attack than the Germans were able to develop (such as the V-2 rocket),” the chief said.

Forget it, chaps!

The War Cabinet said it was beyond the capabilities of the 103 divisions of Allied troops in Europe to do what Napoleon and Hitler had failed to do. As Brooke noted in his diary, “The idea is of course fantastic and the chances of success quite impossible. There is no doubt from now onwards Russia is all-powerful in Europe.”

The British generals were finally able to make their holiday plans when a cable arrived from US President Harry Truman, saying there was no chance the Americans would offer help – let alone lead an attempt – to drive the Russians from Eastern Europe.

The Unthinkable file was closed.

Sparking the Cold War

Very early into the game, Stalin had got wind of what Churchill was up to. The Soviet dictator told his chief commander General Zhukov, “That man is capable of anything.” One of his spies in London had also passed on British plans for meddling in post-war Germany. Together with Truman’s nuclear-fuelled cockiness, Operation Unthinkable created suspicion and bitterness among the former allies. Operation Unthinkable was thus a catalyst of the Cold War.

Warped mind

Churchill’s patina of statesmanship is at long last coming off. The fact is he possessed an extraordinary range of prejudices. According to Hastings, in a memorandum to the war cabinet in November 1942 about policy towards Italy, he wrote: “All the industrial centres should be attacked in intense fashion, every effort being made to terrorise the population.”

Around the same time, he pushed for the firebombing of German population centres such as Dresden, Leipzig and Chemnitz which killed 200,000 civilians in 1945. It was the only way the British were able to announce they were in the war.

In 1944, Churchill okayed a “cataclysmic plan” to convert Germany into a “country primarily agricultural and pastoral in its character.” The Morgenthau Plan if implemented would have starved 10 million Germans to death in the first year alone. US President Franklin Roosevelt said Churchill was “bought off” after the Americans agreed to offer Britain $6.5 billion in Lend Lease. (After Churchill lost the election, the new Labour government rejected the plan.)

Such thinking was not new to a man who had knowingly and enthusiastically caused the Great Bengal Famine in 1942-43. By transferring vast quantities of foodgrain from India to Britain, he starved over four million Indians to death. Churchill was also keen on allowing Gandhi to die in prison. He once said: “I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion.”

In 1898 while mourning the death of a soldier friend, Churchill had remarked: “War is but dirty, shoddy business which only a fool would undertake.” Little did he realise he was describing a future British Prime Minister.

De britiske medier fortsætter :

“22. Juni 1941 indledtes Operation Barbarossa, ” Skønt Churchill og andre havde advaret Stalin, kom det tyske angreb som en fulstændig overraskelse forden Røde Hær ; dens front-line units were quickly smashed.” . . . .

De konservative pro-imperialistiske britiske medier traver søvngængeragtigt videre i den kolde krigs manipulerede historiespor som i virkeligheden bygger på gamle reaktionære anglo-amerikanske og tysk-nazistiske myter om at Stalin er Satan, Sovjet og den kommunistiske bevægelse som ond, uduelig og tyrannisk.

Men de samme medier er ude af stand til at give troværdige svar på virkelighedens spørgsmål, som f.eks hvilken strategi og taktik der var bedre i Sovjets situation – der i 1941 blev mødt af Nazitysklands styrker som i realiteten havde hele Europa´s militære og økonomiske styrke i ryggen – end at strække de euro-fascistiske overlegne styrker så langt ind i Sovjetunionen for derfra at angribe de fascistiske styrker og forsyningslinjer i ryggen.
Tyskland havde tidligere tabt en krig mod Rusland netop på en lignende baggrund. Sovjetiske biografer viste optil det tyske angreb en historisk film om tyske aggresorer der blev trukket langt ind i Rusland og gik under i de store sumpmarker . Fakta er at arbejderne i det vestlige dele af Sovjetunionen skilte maskiner, ja nedmonterede hele fabrikker og flyttede dem udenfor de angribende fascistiske styrkers rækkevidde øst for Ural-bjergkæden i 1941. Naturligvis havde Stalin og de revolutionære kommunistiske arbejdere forberedt dette.

Men de reaktionære britiske historikere har ret når de skriver at :
“Mange iagtagere forudså at Soviet Unionen hurtigt ville bryde sammen, after which, Churchill feared, Hitler ville forsøge at invadere Britain. De kaukasiske oil fields might also fall into German hands, thus immeasurably strengthening Germany’s economic and military position.”

Om den britiske leder Winston Churchill skrev Churchill’s Chief of Staff Alanbrook said his job was talking the PM out of wild ideas. America’s Chief of Staff Marshall said a large part of his job was keeping check on the British PM. As FDR (Roosevelt,red,anm.)) said “Churchill has 100 ideas a day; only three are good, and he doesn’t know which three”.

Faktisk troede Hitler og nazitysklands generaler at Stalins Sovjet var besejret i løbet af nogle få uger.

Debunking the Churchill myth

By Field Marshal Lord Alanbrooke, på forlaget Wiedenfield & Nicholson, 2001,
Reviewed by
Mark Wainwright
HAVING READ about Pongo, Bimbo, Hobo, Jumbo and Pug, it is only when you reach Monty that realisation dawns that this is not the cast list for the Teletubies but generals in the British army.
Although full of this public school twee, Alanbrooke’s diaries are significant and are only now being published in full. Post-war worshippers of Churchill and Eisenhower (elected as US president in 1952), did not like to hear what this former Chief of the Imperial General Staff (from November 1941 to 1946) and war cabinet member had to say in this private diary about the national leaderships in war. The dairy was written by Alanbrooke to unburden himself at the end of every day. Written as if he was speaking to his wife, he never wanted it published – it comprehensively demolishes many of the myths of the Churchill legend.
Alanbrooke slags off everyone – including de Gaulle, Chiang Kai-Shek and ‘Bomber’ Harris. He mentions some ‘scoops’, like Churchill pissing on the Siegfried Line (3 March 1945) after the armies had pushed back the Nazi forces, but the real revelations are about the weaknesses and incapacities of the top brass on both sides of the Atlantic.
Churchill, according to Alanbrooke, had no idea of strategy and preferred to work by intuition. He would repeatedly slag off his generals, claiming to be the only one trying to win the war and working himself up to tears. He would interfere from afar in the most detailed operational matters – without really knowing what was going on. It was Alanbrooke’s role to keep Churchill in his box: “if we had not checked some of his wild ideas heaven knows where we should be now!”
Churchill’s drinking also features prominently – breakfast in Cairo in 1943 at 7.30am was a glass of white wine, two whiskey and sodas and two cigars. Or, “I found him very much the worse for wear having evidently consumed several glasses of brandy at lunch”.
On another occasion, Alanbrooke writes, Churchill “was very tired as a result of his speech in the House concerning the flying bombs, and he had tried to recuperate with drink. As a result he was in a maudlin, bad-tempered, drunken mood, ready to take offence at anything, suspicious of everybody, and in a highly vindictive mood against the Americans. In fact so vindictive that his whole outlook on strategy was warped… I shudder to think where we are going with him as leader! Why cannot big men know when to close their career?”
By 1944 he was writing: “He (Churchill) knows no details, has only got half the picture in his mind, talks absurdities, and makes my blood boil to listen to his nonsense. I find it hard to remain civil. And the wonderful thing is that three-quarters of the population of the world imagine that WC is one of the Strategists of History, a second Marlborough, and the other quarter have no conception what a public menace he is and has been throughout this war. It is far better that the world should never know and never suspect the feet of clay of that otherwise superhuman being. Without him England was lost for certain, with him England has been on the verge of disaster time and again” (10 September, 1944).
There is not much politics in this book: he often says that ‘the chief’ gave a report of the world situation, but never says what it was. Alanbrooke was very much a technical military adviser and organiser.
He does, however, reveal that as early as October 1944 the general staff was asked by Churchill to prepare a plan to push the Red Army back by an allied offensive after Germany was defeated – what was called ‘The Unthinkable War’. The plan was devised but rejected in 1945, partially because previously they had so underestimated the Red Army – they thought that the Nazis would defeat the Soviet Union in three or four months.
There is also Greece, with the rivalries amongst the powers well covered. US president Roosevelt distrusted Churchill – particularly his ambitions in the Balkans. Alanbrooke opposed the adventure in Greece whereby British troops were landed – only after the German forces had been driven out of Athens by the armed Greek masses – with the aim of re-establishing the Greek monarchy. In May 1944 Alanbrooke writes, “we also discussed the future of Greece and then came across the usual desire of the Foreign Office to support some highbrow ideas as to future governments entirely unacceptable to local people, with utterly inadequate forces”. By December 1944, “having originally asked for 5,000 men as being ample to set the Greek government firmly on its feet, he (Churchill) has now got over 40,000 and considers that the military have badly misunderstood the strength required and should send more troops at once”. As civil war unfolded, as the British troops attempted to disarm the Greek National Liberation Army (ELAS), this figure reached 80-90,000 “and what are we to get out of it all? As far as I can see, absolutely nothing! We shall eventually have to withdraw out of Greece, and she will then become as communistic as her close neighbours consider desirable. Meanwhile the campaign in Italy stagnates”.
One last aphorism from Churchill ‘in good form’: “politics is very much like war, we may even have to use poison gas at times”.

Operation Unthinkable
This is the most thought provoking document, an excerpt from a secret war plan commissioned by Winston Churchill to study the feasibility of invading the USSR at the conclusion of WWII. Of history’s many lost opportunities, perhaps none were more costly in terms of human life, economic stagnation, and moral quiescence than the failure to pursue this course.
The book is replete with such moments and memoranda, many of them equally compelling to consider. The introductory essays are informative but brief, setting the stage for the document to follow without burying the reader in unnecessary detail. It is great fun and subversively informative.


Marshall Plan Commemorative Section: Special Relationships: The Postwar Bequest

Lord Jenkins of Hillhead is Chancellor of Oxford University. He was Home Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer in two Labour governments between 1965 and 1976, and then served as President of the European Community.
This is my second opportunity to commemorate the Marshall Plan. Twenty-five years ago I received an honorary degree and gave the Harvard commencement address from the same spot where George Marshall had delivered his reverberating oration on June 5, 1947. There are those who argue that the plan he unveiled that day made little difference to Europe’s recovery. The rebuilding of the continent began before aid started to flow, they say, and would have gone ahead in any event. As with any reasonable theory, this one has some evidence on its side — but not nearly enough.
The United States had, with little publicity, sent Europe large amounts of aid, mainly in the form of loans, in 1945 and 1946. Postwar American assistance reached a trough in 1947, coinciding with, though not causing, the economic and political crises of that year. These economic troubles and the falloff in aid were particularly dangerous in France and Italy, where, if not for the fortuitous presence of strong interior ministers, the pro-Western governments might have given way to powerful domestic communist parties. Britain was free of that threat, but fuel shortages during that particularly severe winter shut down much of the country’s industry, and the unemployment rate temporarily soared.
The next year the economies of Western Europe picked up significantly, even before they received Marshall aid. But the governments knew the funds were coming. Europe may have jump-started its recovery before American assistance began to flow, but the Marshall Plan provided a critical element without which the continent’s rehabilitation would have stalled: relative freedom from balance-of-payments restraints. Since the end of the war, Europe had lived from hand to mouth; its limited recovery had been stimulated by the desperate need for short-term supplies. Marshall aid enabled Europe to plan more securely and to embark on an essential program of fixed investment. If the Marshall Plan did not prompt the recovery, it served as the crucial underpinnings.
Aside from the direct economic effects and the free transatlantic transfer of billions of dollars (these were certainly not negligible), the Marshall Plan had several long-lasting political consequences. Perhaps most important, it healed the breach between Britain and the United States that had been threatening their relationship since late 1945. Immediately after the war, the North Atlantic partnership suffered numerous buffets. To American leaders, the British appeared tiresomely sensitive as they clung, with increasing difficulty, to their status as a great power. Britain refused to fall in line with American foreign policy, and the rift between the countries grew over relations with the Soviet Union. First Franklin Roosevelt and then Harry Truman sought to avoid appearing closer to Winston Churchill than to Joseph Stalin. Although the American government’s position would soon change, it was initially more hopeful of Soviet cooperation than were either Tory or Labour leaders. When Churchill delivered his “iron curtain” speech in March 1946, Truman was less enthusiastic about it than were the Labour Prime Minister Clement Attlee and Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin. And a week later, Secretary of State James Byrnes offered the hardly heartwarming comment that the United States was no more interested in an alliance with Britain against the Soviet Union than in an alliance with the Soviet Union against Britain. Such an even-handed approach would have been unthinkable under the team of Marshall and Dean Acheson, but, while it lasted, it put a considerable damper on any “union of hearts” hopes in the British government.
Washington dealt Attlee’s Labour government three heavy blows in its first six months. First was Truman’s abrupt, unilateral, and almost unintentional termination of lend-lease a week after the end of the Pacific war. Then came the failure of the great economist-diplomat John Maynard Keynes to negotiate a reasonable replacement for the program. Keynes had believed the United States would offer a grant or an interest-free loan of $5 billion to sustain Britain, whose overseas assets had been liquidated and whose exports had fallen by two-thirds as a result of the war effort. But he was able to get only a $3.75 billion loan, payable over 50 years at two percent interest, and a stipulation requiring premature sterling convertibility meant that a large part of this aid whooshed away to third countries as soon as the clause took effect in the summer of 1947. But the British government was too desperate to refuse these terms. Unlike the Marshall aid, which was a gift and not a loan, this assistance package created more dissension than gratitude and was not supported in Parliament, even by the Conservative Party.
Finally, with the severance of the full exchange of information on atomic weaponry, which the British believed had been secured by the Quebec Agreement of 1943, relations between the two countries became still worse. Attlee had a reasonably satisfactory discussion on the matter with Truman in November 1945, but this private understanding was not a public commitment. The United States refused a formal British request for specific information in April 1946, as Truman pleaded that he was bound by the McMahon Act, which restricted the sharing of atomic secrets with other countries. No bitter public recriminations followed: Britain was too dependent on the United States, and Attlee was not a man to indulge in luxuries he could not afford. But at the beginning of 1947, the relationship had little warmth, particularly as the United States and Britain clashed over Palestine, where the United States supported the creation of a new state of Israel to replace the British mandate.
The Marshall Plan was the first step in transforming this atmosphere. It was followed and supplemented by a joint role in the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1949, the common airlift to overcome the Soviet blockade of Berlin in 1948-49, and the two countries’ embroilment in the Korean War in 1950. But the plan laid the foundation for the Anglo-American “special relationship.” Marshall’s gesture of generosity — or, more cynically, his offer based on exceptionally enlightened self-interest — became a reality largely because of the rapid response of Bevin and his French counterpart, Georges Bidault. The prompt, effective reaction turned Britain, at least in its own eyes, into an enthusiastic joint parent of the Marshall Plan. The plan also changed the attitude toward the United States of the British moderate left, which had, with the end of the war, come to regard the United States as a hard, self-interested capitalist power. Although the nuclear brinkmanship of President Eisenhower’s secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, created strains, the right and center of the Labour Party and the entire Conservative Party, except for a chauvinist fringe, were instinctively pro-American for the rest of their political lives.
The downside was that Britain became less amenable to its real status: an elder and maybe most-favored child, but not a liberated mother. It was a recipient, not a donor, yet it tried to behave as though the reverse were true. There was a mixture of the splendid and the ridiculous in the British attitude. London led Europe in responding to Marshall’s speech, yet, having led the continent, the British government sought to detach itself from the rest. This was a remarkable and depressing precursor of Britain’s relationship with Europe in subsequent decades. Throughout June 1947, British statesmen pushed for a special co-distributor status, but the ludicrous nature of their aim became clear in the decisive meeting held that month. Attlee, Bevin, President of the Board of Trade Stafford Cripps, and Chancellor of the Exchequer Hugh Dalton — an array of ministers whom history has judged more impressive than most of their predecessors or successors — assembled at Downing Street to argue their case before Under Secretary of State for Economic Affairs Will Clayton, who was no more than the third-ranking official in the State Department. Clayton held firm, but his interlocutors did not; they had no ground on which to stand, and, to their credit, they cooperated enthusiastically even though the terms were not to their liking.
The only practical result of this dispute was that, with compromise an important element in most international negotiations, the British were left a little more free than the continental Europeans in their use of “counterpart funds,” the monies the assisted governments received from the sale of commodity aid in national markets. Paradoxically, the British, who relied on these funds mainly for the fiscally responsible but unimaginative purpose of paying off debt, probably got somewhat less benefit out of the Marshall Plan than did the others. The French used the counterpart funds for a bold program of investment in their national infrastructure, laying the groundwork for the preeminence of the French railway system from the 1950s on and, more generally, transforming the rather backward industrial society of the Third Republic into the advanced technological power of the Fifth. The counterpart funds allowed the Germans to pull themselves out of the mire by giving their manual laborers enough to eat for the first time since the war. At the time of the announcement of the American aid offer, German exports were only 19 per cent of their 1936 level and output per head was only 52 percent of that level. In 1950, one year after the devaluation of the European currencies against the dollar, German exports rose 162 percent; in the same period, Britain’s exports rose only 12 percent.
By June 1947 European integration was already a major U.S. foreign policy goal, and the United States was willing to endure some trade discrimination to foster this political objective. The Marshall Plan’s integrationist agenda opened a mild but persistent disagreement between Britain and America. The Attlee government could tolerate the European Payments Union, but the Schuman Plan for a European Coal and Steel Community went too far. The (failed) European Defense Community was too integrationist and supranational for the second Churchill government, as was the European Economic Community, or Common Market, for the short-lived Eden government. In these early years Britain set a policy of partial detachment from European integration that would last for decades. This caused irritation in Washington, particularly when London presented its policies as part of the British effort to be a faithful partner with America. Compared, however, with the more dangerous and basic differences of 1945 over the approach to the Soviet Union, this disagreement was relatively innocuous.
The Marshall Plan undoubtedly provided a major impetus toward European unity, and that was one of its great attractions for the United States. But as the Harvard speech approached, Marshall made an important decision, which might have imperiled this objective, and Truman took some persuading of its wisdom. Aid, Marshall concluded, must be offered to all of Europe, not merely to the noncommunist countries. If Europe was to become deeply divided, the deed must be done — and must be seen as done — by Moscow and not Washington. The Russians came to the initial Paris meeting and allowed their satellites to attend as well. But once there, they made it clear that they would be delighted to receive American money but only on a bilateral basis and without any commitment to economic coordination. When the United States refused these terms, the Soviet Union withdrew and took seven Eastern European countries with it. Marshall’s calculated risk came off.
It was lucky that the Soviet foreign minister, Vyacheslav Molotov, did not remain in Paris, half cooperative and half sullen. Had he stayed, the venture would probably have led only to some limited transfer of funds from the United States to Europe and then run into the ground. Furthermore, had Marshall’s gamble failed and had the Russians welcomed a full cooperative effort, the plan might have become an assuaging force in East-West relations, but it would not have served to help unify Western Europe, for a federation extending from Paris to Moscow was not remotely feasible. Such an impasse might have eased the problems of successive British governments in their efforts to keep their country half in and half out of Western Europe, but it would not have aided the remarkable economic resurgence of the 1950s and 1960s in Germany, France, and the countries clustered around them, or the almost miraculous Franco-German rapprochement in the 1970s. The Marshall Plan would have remained an exceptional example of the confluence of generosity and enlightened self-interest. But it would not have had the formative psychological and political impact that is its legacy.


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