Book Review: Memoirs of the Second World War (Part 8)

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Battle of the Ardennes was the last German offensive of the war.  According to Churchill, it was won primarily by the "staunch fighting qualities of the American soldier."

Meanwhile, trouble was fomenting in Greece.  The Liberation of Greece began in very early October when British commandos arrived.  On October 4th, British troops occupied Patras.  The Germans evacuated Athens on the 12th, and on the 14th, British paratroopers occupied the city.  Greece was in ruins; the Germans had destroyed roads and railways in their retreat.  The British were warmly welcomed, and British soldiers willingly went on half-rations to increase the food supply for the populace.  By the 11th of November, Greece was almost completely free.  Then the Communists started making trouble.  They were ordered out of Athens.  The new Greek government tried working on a guerilla disarmament agreement (with the Communists leading on the measure), but then the Communists ministers resigned.  The remaining ministers decreed to dissolve the guerilla forces.  The Communists tried to seize Athens, and the country was launched into a civil war.  They seized almost all police stations in the city, murdering the police officers.  Churchill ordered British troops to intervene.  Hand-to-hand fighting was the rule against a strong enemy.  Churchill left for Athens on Christmas eve to meet with the Archbishop.  The Archbishop became regent.  The insurgents were driven out, and by mid January the British troops were in control.  A truce with the communists was signed on January 11th.  

The Yalta Conference was held in February.  Churchill's main concern at this conference was about the Soviet domination of eastern Europe and the fate of Poland.  Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill interchanged nearly 18,000 words about Poland at Yalta.  After the three parted ways, Churchill saw his friend Roosevelt for the last time aboard the Quincy.

Churchill was with General Montgomery to watch the Rhine crossing.  All went well.  Churchill urged the Americans to get to Berlin before the Russians did, but the Americans were unconcerned about the Russians.  As the weeks passed after Yalta, it became apparent that the Soviets would not carry out the agreements on Poland.  The Communists also took over Rumania.

Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945, and Truman replaced him. 

The Germans surrendered to the Western Allies wholesale in Italy.  Partisans shot and hanged Mussolini.  On April 13th, the Russians took Vienna.  The US Army came within 60 miles of Berlin on the 12th, but here they stopped.  Four days later, the Russians attacked Berlin and surrounded it on the 25th.  The US 1st Army met the Russians near Torgau, on the Elbe, and Germany was cut in two.  

On April 22nd, Hitler made the decision to remain in Berlin.  Goering assumed that Hitler's resolve to stay in Berlin meant he was abdicating.  He asked for confirmation of this and if he was to take over; he was promptly dismissed.  He and 100 Luftwaffe members were taken prisoner by the Americans.  On April 30th, Hitler shot himself.  Goebbels poisoned his own children, and then ordered SS guards to shoot him and his wife.  Bormann disappeared trying to sneak through the lines after sending a message to Admiral Doenitz telling him he had been appointed by the Fuhrer to take over.  Hitler's remaining staff fell into Russian hands. Himmler was arrested by the British on May 21st.  He bit a cyanide pill he had hidden in his mouth during interrogation on the 23rd. 

Admiral Friedeburg signed the surrender of all German Forces in Northwestern Germany, Holland, the Islands, Schleswig-Holstein, and Denmark.  The Germans played for time so as many troops as possible could hurry to the Western front to surrender to the Western Allies instead of to the Russians.  They even tried to surrender the Western front seperately, but failed.  On May 7th at 2:41, the Germans finally signed total unconditional surrender with hostilities to cease at midnight May 8th.

Once the Germans surrendered, in Churchill's words, "The main bond of common danger which had united the Great Allies had vanished overnight.  The Soviet menace, to my eyes, had already replaced the Nazi foe."  Churchill telegraphed to Truman, "An iron curtain is drawn down upon their front.  We do not know what is going on behind."

Churchill urged a conference between Truman, Stalin, and himself as soon as possible.  Truman and Stalin delayed the meeting till mid-July.  On July 17th, he learned from Truman that the atomic bomb was now a reality.  They made plans for the defeat of Japan and discussed the future boundaries of nations.  Unfortunately, "Frustration was the fate of this final Conference of 'the Three.'"  Churchill states that the boundaries that resulted after the peace were "never and would never have been agreed to by any Government of which I was the head.  Even at Potsdam the matter might perhaps have been recovered, but the destruction of the British National Government and my removal from the scene at the time when I still had much influence and power rendered it impossible for satisfactory solutions to be reached."

Yes, on July 26 was the British election.  His party lost.  He could have taken a few days to resign so he could be able to present the Japanese surrender to the people, but he realized Britain needed to be immediately represented by proper authority.  So at 7 o'clock he tendered his resignation to the King.  He thanked the British people for their support through all the long, hard years.

Churchill tells in the epilogue of his time after the war, the speeches he delivered warning of the terrible iron curtain, the time he spent painting, the origins of NATO, and various other world events: the communist takeover of China, Indian independence, the Korean war, Israeli/Palestinian and Arab conflicts, etc.

I better stop writing or else my book review is going to be a book itself!  Memoirs of the Second World War is an excellent book, and I definitely recommend it to every student of history.