Potsdam Conference: Day 3 – Thursday, July 19, 1945

Thursday, July 19, 1945 at Potsdam, Germany

President Truman called the third plenary session to order at 4:05 PM.

The biggest issues confronting the Big 3 today, on which everyone had his own viewpoint, was what to do with Franco’s government in Spain and what should now happen in Yugoslavia.

In short, Stalin wanted Franco out, while Truman wanted nothing to do with it. Both Truman and Churchill wanted free elections in Yugoslavia while Stalin supported Tito’s dictatorship.

Conflict was waiting to erupt.

Finally, Churchill and Stalin began to argue over whether the Prime Minister’s jabs at the Soviets over Tito were “complaints” or “accusations.”

Truman Villa

A fed up Harry S. Truman, the normally humble Midwestern man, had reached boiling point: “I am here to discuss world affairs with Soviet and Great Britain governments…I’m not here to sit as a court! That is the work of San Francisco (the newly established United Nations). I want to discuss matters on which the three governments can come to agreement!”

Churchill responded with some dubious reference to the Yalta Conference, while Stalin would not surrender or relinquish his support for Tito.

Utterly annoyed and completely exhausted, Truman finally yielded to the stalemate and called the third session to an end. Only 3 of 17 days into the Conference and it was already clear that the wartime spirit of cooperation was fading dramatically fast.

What’s interesting to understand about the Potsdam Conference by this point is that the Big Three began facing their differences for the first time. During their previous meetings at Tehran and Yalta, which took place while they were still relying on each other to defeat Nazi Germany and liberate Hitler’s Europe, they had been able to make grand statements about the future of Germany and Europe while postponing or delegating issues on which they disagreed. Now at Potsdam, that was no longer necessary or possible.

Disagreements could no longer be concealed.

Despite their differences in the afternoon, it was now President Truman’s turn to host Churchill and Stalin at “The Little White House” at Kaiserstraße 2 (today Karl-Marx-Straße). In his villa beautifully situated above Griebnitzsee, he threw a party that night and flew in two American GIs to entertain, a concert pianist and a professional violinist.

Truman Villa from Griebnitzsee

Dinner that night had to have been one of the most elaborate served in Europe in years: pate de foie gras, caviar on toast, cream of tomato soup, olives, perch saute meuniere, filet mignon, mushroom gravy, shoestring potatoes, peas and carrots, tomato salad with French dressing, Roca cheese, and vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce which had been flown in from the USS Augusta in Antwerp (Truman’s transportation across the Atlantic).

The wines included a chilled German white called Niersteiner from 1937; a fine Bordeaux, Mouton d’ Armailhac; Champagne, 1934 Pommery; plus coffee, cigars, cigarettes, port, cognac, and vodka.

“Had Churchill on my right, Stalin on my left,” Truman wrote his wife, Bess. “I was delighted to see Stalin so obviously enjoying himself. The old man loves music!”

Churchill even toasted to his political opponent, Clement Attlee, sitting quietly across the table: “I raise my glass to the leader of His Majesty’s loyal opposition.” Churchill’s icy sarcasm was not lost on Attlee, who had thus far said very little at Potsdam.

Finally, even Secretary of State Jimmy Byrnes was in unusually good form. “His stories were good, and told with both Irish and southern charm,” remarked one ambassador present. Meanwhile, Admiral Leahy got his chops busted from the others for his abstinence from alcohol.

Food, music and booze had come to save the day. The cold conspicuous glares of rigorous diplomacy in Cecilienhof during the day gave way to many genuine smiles at night.