Saturday, February 10, 2007

Germay Surrenders, A-Bomb Race Begins


… Stalin banned negotiations, except for unconditional surrender….
At 10.15 a.m., Zhukov’s artillery bombarded the city centre. By dawn on the 2nd, Berlin was his. On 4 May, a Smersh colonel discovered the wizened, charred remains of Hitler and Eva. The bodies were spirited away. Zhukov was not told. Indeed, Stalin enjoyed humiliating the Marshal by asking if he had heard anything about Hitler’s body.*…

*The jawbone and a portion of skull were kept in Moscow; the rest of his cadaver was tested by Smersh and then buried beside a garage at a Soviet army base in Magdeburg where it remained until KGB Chairman Yury Andropov ordered it cremated and the ashes scattered in April 1970.

On 9 May, Moscow celebrated Victory Day…. Stalin was furious when a junior officer general signed the German surrender at Reims and… ordered Zhukov to sign a proper surrender in Berlin…. But the glory days of the generals were over…. Later in the year, [Stalin] summoned him to the Kremlin to warn him that Beria and Abakumov were gathering evidence against him:
‘I don’t believe all this nonsense but stay out of Moscow.’… (pp. 435-436)


At 5.30 a.m. on 16 July, the day of Stalin’s arrival, the United States tested a nuclear bomb in New Mexico that would change everything and, in many ways spoil Stalin’s triumph….
At midday on Tuesday the 17th, Stalin… arrived at Truman’s ‘Little White House’ for their first meeting. The new President said nothing about the topic that dominated the conference. Sergo Beria wrote that his father, informed by spies in the American nuclear project, gave Stalin the news during this week: ‘I didn’t know then, at least not from the Americans,’ was how Stalin put it. Beria had first informed him of the Manhattan Project in March 1942: ‘We need to get started,’ said Stalin, placing Molotov in charge. Finally in September 1944, the leading Russian nuclear scientist, Professor Igor Kurchatov, wrote to Stalin to denounce plodding Molotov and begged Beria to take it over…. He and Beria distrusted their own scientists and spies. None the less, they were aware of the urgency in procuring uranium, and twice during the Conference, Stalin and Beria debated how to react to the Americans. They had agreed that Stalin should ‘pretend not to understand’, when the subject was mentioned. But so far, Truman said nothing. They discussed Russia’s entry into the war against Japan….
… on 24 July, two monumental moments symbolized the imminent end of the Grand Alliance. First Churchill attacked Stalin for closing off Eastern Europe….
‘Fairy tales!’ snapped Stalin…. Stalin headed out of the room but Truman seemed to hurry after him. Interpreter Pavlov deftly appeared beside Stalin….
‘The USA,’ said Truman, tested a new bomb of extraordinary destructive power.’ Pavlov watched Stalin closely: ‘no muscle moved in his face.’ He simply said he was glad to hear it:
‘A new bomb! Of extraordinary power! Probably decisive on the Japanese! What a bit of luck!’ Stalin followed the plan he had agreed with Beria to give the Americans no satisfaction but he still thought the Americans were playing games: ‘An A-bomb is a completely new weapon and Truman didn’t exactly say that.’ He noticed Churchill’s glee too: Truman spoke ‘not without Churchill’s knowledge’.
Back at Ludendorff’s villa, Stalin, accompanied by Zhukov and [Andrei] Gromyko, immediately told Molotov about the conversation. But Stalin knew that, as yet, the Americans only possessed one or two Bombs – there was just time to catch up.
… ‘We’ll have to talk it over with Kurchatov and get him to speed things up.’ Professor Kurchatov told Stalin that he lacked electrical power and had not enough tractors. Stalin immediately ordered power to be switched off in several populated areas and gave him two tank divisions to act as tractors. The Bomb’s revolutionary importance was still percolating when the first device was dropped on Hiroshima. The scale of resourced needed was just dawning on Stalin.
He then convened a meeting with Molotov and Gromyko at which he announced:
‘… The real question is should countries which have the Bomb simply compete with one another or… should they seek a solution that would mean prohibition of its production and use?’ He realized that America and Britain ‘are hoping we won’t be able to develop the Bomb ourselves for some time…’ and ‘want to force us to accept their plans. Well that’s not going to happen.’
Potsdam ended with an affable but increasingly chilly impasse: Stalin possessed Eastern Europe but Truman had the Bomb…. [Stalin] removed Molotov and commissioned Beria to create the Soviet Bomb…. Beria included Malenkov and others in the list (of future commission members).
‘I prefer that they should belong. If they stay outside they’ll put spokes in the wheels.’ It was the climax of Beria’s career. (pp. 435-444)

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