20th January 2007
He was born in 1893 and had a distinguished career in the Foreign Office. He was made head of the German section of the Foreign Office in 1948 and from 1949 to 1953 was the senior civil servant and Permanent Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.
'Home and Abroad', published in 1956 (London, Andre Deutsch), is not so much his autobiography, as a series of memoirs and commentaries on events.
One chapter deals with his time in Germany, and this provides, in his own words, only "a brief personal impression of the British Zone of Germany as seen in the summer of 1945." He skips the period from 1946 to 1949, saying "this is not the place to tell the story of the British occupation of Germany." His next chapter resumes with a discussion of South and East Asia in 1949, when he was permanent under-secretary at the Foreign Office.
The previous chapter covers his time as British representative on the European Advisory Commission (EAC), the joint Allied body established after the British, US and Soviet foreign ministers' conference in Moscow in October 1943, to make recommendations on the terms of surrender to be imposed on Germany and other states with which the Allies were at war.
Strang writes with pride of the achievements of the EAC, in particular how its recommendations in the three areas it worked on, terms of surrender, zones of occupation and machinery of control, were all put into effect (which is more than can be said for most other joint Allied bodies during and after the war).
But a case can be made that the policy agreed by the EAC, and endorsed by the Allied governments, was deeply flawed in all three areas; in many cases based on assumptions which turned out to be incorrect. For example:
As Strang himself says in the book, the terms of surrender drafted by the EAC assumed "there would still be in existence a central German civilian authority competent to give a signature." They had to be hastily revised after the German military forces had surrendered, to account for the fact that there was no civil government left in Germany possessing sufficient authority to sign anything. In the event the three Commanders-in-Chief, Montgomery, Eisenhower, and Marshal Zhukov, issued a unilateral proclamation on behalf of their governments, in Berlin on 5th June, and this formed the legal basis of the subsequent occupation.
On the issue of the borders of the zones of occupation, Strang says that "it could not be foreseen [in Sept 1944] how deeply the Western allied forces would penetrate into Germany." At the time, he says, the British were more concerned that the Soviets would halt their forces at the German frontier and leave the US and British to finish the war in Europe. This seems strange and I wonder how true it is? Following the success of the Normandy landings, many people in Britain believed the war would be over by Christmas. The first time the British and US set foot on German soil was as early as 11th September 1944 and victory was only delayed to the following year after setbacks at Arnhem and in the Ardennes.
On the lack of cooperation between the British and the Soviet Zone he says that: "it was not our expectation that the zones would be sealed off from one another. (This was a Soviet conception which only became apparent in the late summer of 1945, when the occupation was an accomplished fact.)" In the event the disruption caused by new barriers to long established patterns of trade within Germany caused all sorts of economic problems in the British Zone after the war; one frequently quoted example is the difficulty experienced by the coal mines in the Ruhr obtaining wooden pit props, which previously had been supplied from the Soviet Zone and now were no longer available.
The third achievement of the EAC, the establishment of a joint allied machinery of control, broke down very quickly after the war. In theory the four allies (now including France) would reach unanimous agreement on policies, which would then be implemented by central German administrations. In practice the central German administrations were never established and the allies rarely reached unanimous agreement on anything that really mattered. As Montgomery said in a telegram to Prime Minister Attlee as early as October 1945: "I had once thought Four-Power government of Germany was possible. I now considered that it could never be made to work..."
Here are three further extracts from the book, in no particular order:
Firstly, Strang's impressions of Berlin when he first visited the city on 5th June 1945.
"This was our first sight of the ruins of Berlin. Rubble piled yards high along both sides of the streets, leaving only a narrow passage; detours to find practicable bridges over railways or canals; the pervading smell of corruption; few inhabitants to be seen ... Was it necessary to cause all this destruction? We still thought there had been no alternative. Would all this ever be restored? We doubted it, but we ought to have known better. 'Men, not walls make the city.' Or, as Ernest Bevin said when he first gazed on the scene of desolation a few weeks later: 'It's people, not things, that matter' ... To us, who came in due course to live among them, they became in time a familiar feature of the landscape and progressively lost their first sharpness of impact."
It's interesting to compare this with the impressions of another British observer, 'Berlin Twilight' by Lieutenant-Colonel Byford-Jones, which I wrote about in an earlier posting.
Secondly, on a discussion with Rudolf Petersen, mayor of Hamburg, in 1945, Strang says that Petersen told him that "Germans were already beginning to feel disillusioned and disappointed. They sincerely wished for friendship with England, but the policy of the occupying Powers seemed to be one of grinding Germany in the dust. The German economy would be in danger of collapse in the coming winter, and the Germans much be given some hope for the future, otherwise they might decide in despair to turn to Communism."
This argument was not unique to the Germans. Some British officials were making much the same point, for example Noel Annan, who worked in the Political Division of the Control Commission, and indirectly reported to Strang as Political Adviser.
Strang, however, would have none of it. He says of the discussion with Petersen: "I interrupted this exercise in self-pity and covert blackmail to say that we were determined that there should be no repetition of the two world wars brought about by Germany, and this was the purpose of our alliance with the Soviet Union. The primary purpose of the occupation was to disarm and demilitarise Germany and to uproot the Nazi party, not to promote Anglo-German friendship or to bring about the economic revival of Germany, though these were laudable objectives which might well be consequently achieved."
Thirdly, towards the end of June 1945, Strang went on a tour of inspection of the British Zone:
"We made our journey in high summer. We found a smiling countryside, beautifully farmed, with bountiful crops growing right up to roadsides and hedgerows. Villages and small towns off the main roads were intact; towns and villages at cross roads often smashed; larger centres like Munster and Osnabrück, half or three quarters demolished; industrial cities like Dortmund almost totally in ruins, except round the fringes."
The people were healthier and better fed than he expected and he saw few signs of "acute distress." His perception was that the Germans "suffered less from the continued strain of war than did our own people. They had the material resources of Europe to draw upon, and had the profit of skilled and unskilled slave labour, ruthlessly exploited. There were still at that time substantial, though diminishing private stocks of food."
Again, I wonder how true this is? Frank Donnison, in the British official history of the military occupation says (Civil Affairs and Military Government: North-West Europe 1944-1946, London HMSO, 1961, P330) that minimal stocks of food were found in the British Zone of Germany after the war.
Noel Annan in his memoirs, (Changing Enemies: Harper Collins, 1995) provides another view of Strang's tour of the zone in October 1945. Annan says that "the tour with Strang opened my eyes to the assumptions with which Military Government officers worked. Grotesque as it may sound today, they assumed that the occupation of Germany would last twenty years."
Annan goes on to describe the colonial mentality of some of the British administrators. Speaking of one former colonial servant, now a member of the British Control Commission in Germany, Annan tells how he: "was apt to treat the Germans as if they were a specially intelligent tribe of Bedouins. Discussion in the shady tent was permitted until the Resident Officer struck the ground with his stick and gave his decision. This attitude exasperated the Germans."
I have no evidence that Strang himself possessed this 'colonial mentality' but still find the different and contrasting attitudes of the British to Germany and German people after the war an intriguing subject, not so much for what it tells us about Germany, as for what it tells us about the British.