Thursday, July 26, 1945 at Potsdam, Germany
With the British leaders back in London, there would be no negotiations or a plenary session held today.
But President Truman got up early as usual and boarded a flight for Frankfurt. When he touched down at the U.S. Army airfield there, Supreme Allied Commander General Eisenhower greeted the President along with an honor guard from the 508th Parachute Infantry.
Army units lined the roadways for over 30 straight miles and Truman rode past them in Eisenhower’s armored car with the general, inspecting the troops.
The car steered deeper into the countryside, through quaint villages that had not been bombed. It was a reminder that not every single German had supported the Nazis, as there were plenty of Germans who had lived reluctantly through WWII and had lost so much – family members, businesses, and their overall every way of life.
The group eventually ended up back at the Frankfurt headquarters where Eisenhower had organized the military government of the American Occupied Zone in Germany. The offices were housed in a building formerly owned by I.G. Farben, the giant chemical company that had supplied the poisons to gas millions of innocent victims in the Nazi death camps during the Holocaust.
When Truman returned to the Little White House in Babelsberg around 7:00 PM that evening, he had learned that the people of Great Britain had elected Clement Attlee as their new prime minister. Several couldn’t believe it, but the Soviets seemed the most upset of all.
According to Truman’s biographer, David McCullough, ‘How could this possibly be, Molotov kept demanding. How could they not have known the outcome in advance?’ Stalin postponed the Conference for another couple days and was seen by no one.
“First Roosevelt, now Churchill,” Truman noted privately. The old order was cleary passing.
Finally, at 9:30 PM Berlin time, the President’s Press Secretary and personal friend, Charlie Ross, handed the a finalized version of the Potsdam Declaration to the press whose job it would now be to spread this document all the way to Tokyo.
“We the President of the United States, the President of the National Government of the Republic of China, and the Prime Minister of Great Britain, representing the hundreds of millions of our countrymen, have conferred and agree that Japan shall be given an opportunity to end this war,” it began.
“We call upon the Government of Japan to proclaim now the Unconditional Surrender of all its armed forces,” it was announced from Potsdam. “The alternative for Japan is ‘prompt and utter destruction.”
Ross cabled his assistant back in Washington and informed him that President Truman’s wish was to get word to the Japanese people in every possible way. Soon, airplanes were flying over the mainland of Japan and dropping upwards of some 600,000 leaflets. The Potsdam Declaration would soon start to be read over the radio, and news of it appeared on the front pages of newspapers all over the globe in the morning.
At the Little White House that evening, Truman tried to relax out on his lakefront porch. The President was exhausted and he knew that Stalin was going to be furious.
The Generalissimo had never been consulted on the Potsdam Declaration before it had been released.
But then again, the Soviet Union was not yet at war with Japan and thus had no authority to make any official demand.
At the same time that the ultimatum was being released to the press, Truman had a special messenger walk the Potsdam Declaration up the street to Soviet Foreign Secretary Molotov. Even though the plenary sessions would still be suspended for another day, the President was certain that he’d be hearing from the Soviets the next morning.