Yalta Conference and the invasion of Warsaw
The victory over Hitler created new worries for the winners. They had different views as to the future of Europe after the war. Before the end of 1945 deep divisions were emerging between the leaders of the USA and the Soviet Union.
Why did the wartime alliance fall apart in 1945?
Yalta and the argument over Poland
In February 1945 the leaders of Britain, the USA and the Soviet Union met at a place called Yalta. The three leaders were Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin. The end of the war was in sight and they met to decide on the shape of the post-war world. Much of their time was spent discussing the future of Poland. They disagreed about how Poland should be governed.
Yalta: The attitude of the leaders
Roosevelt was already very ill - two months later he would be dead. Roosevelt was keen that democracy should be introduced into Eastern Europe. However, he trusted Stalin and wanted to make sure that the USA and the USSR remained on good terms after the war.
Churchill was very concerned about the future of Poland and Eastern Europe. He did not trust Stalin. He wanted to stop Stalin from imposing communism on the territory taken by the Red Army. Britain had gone to war in 1939 to help Poland and Churchill did not want to abandon Poland to Soviet control.
Stalin was obsessed with the security of the USSR. He wanted the Soviet Union to retain the Polish territory he had taken in 1939 as part of the Nazi-Soviet Pact. He also wanted to make sure that the new government of Poland would be friendly towards the Soviet Union.
Why was Poland the center of attention at Yalta?
Poland was the largest country in Eastern Europe. Its post-war settlement was likely to set a pattern for the rest of Eastern Europe but the wartime allies had disagreed strongly about that settlement before Yalta.
Two different groups wanted to form the new government for Poland. Each group had a very different relationship with Stalin:
The London Poles
When the war broke out, some members of the Polish government fled to London and set up a 'government-in-exile'. They were strongly anti-Soviet. Much of Poland had been in the Russian Empire before 1917. The London Poles were Catholics and many were landowners: they hated both the idea of communism and Stalin because he had carved up their country through the German-Soviet Pact in 1939.
In 1943 they were horrified to learn that the Soviet army had executed about 15,000 Polish officers and buried their bodies at a place called Katyn. Stalin knew that if the London Poles formed a Polish government, it would be hostile to the USSR.
The Lublin Poles
In July 1944 the USSR set up its own future government for Poland. This first met at the town of Lublin, and they became known as the Lublin Poles. They were mostly communists and Stalin felt that they could be trusted.
The Warsaw Uprising
The London Poles decided that their only chance of frustrating Stalin was to seize control of part of Poland before the Red Army did. In August 1944 Polish resistance fighters, loyal to the London Poles, attacked the German forces occupying Warsaw, the capital of Poland. The Soviet army was nearby but did nothing to help the Poles. Stalin did not want them to defeat the Germans. He wanted the Lublin Poles to take over after the war.
The British and the Americans were appalled by the Soviet attitude. Without Soviet help, the Rising was ruthlessly smashed by the Germans and nearly 300,000 Poles were killed. The Germans sent the surviving people of Warsaw to concentration camps and when the Red Army finally took the city it was completely deserted. The Red Army went on to take control of the whole of Poland. By January 1945 the USSR announced that Poland had been liberated and the Lublin group was now in charge of Poland.