23rd November 2008
Historians have debated when and why British Policy after the war changed from ‘holding Germany down’ to ‘putting Germany on its feet again.’ Was it due to the emergence of the Cold War, and if so, was the key ‘Turning Point’ the Moscow Foreign Ministers’ conference in April 1947, as Konrad Adenauer claimed in his memoirs, or as the historian Anne Deighton has argued, was it a year earlier at the Paris conference in April 1946, or half way between the two with the speech by James Byrnes (the US Secretary of State) in Stuttgart in September 1946? Alternatively was the Turning Point due, not to the emerging Cold War, but as another historian has claimed, to economic, rather than political or diplomatic grounds, in the Winter of 1946, as the British government became concerned above all else with the costs of the occupation, or yet again, as Petra Goedde has argued (see last week’s post) was it due to personal relationships between GIs and Germans, in the first two years after the end of the war?
In the paper I gave at the History Lab postgraduate conference earlier this year, I argued that, for senior British army officers on the ground in Germany, the key Turning Point was none of the above, but immediately after the unconditional surrender of German armed forces on VE Day in May 1945 and the end of the war in Europe, when almost overnight, the British army of occupation started working energetically to rebuild and restore a country they had previously been doing their best to destroy.
On a recent visit to The National Archives I was delighted to find evidence to support my view, in a file of weekly policy directives, which specified very clearly the public relations line to be adopted by the British Military Government.
Directive no 1, issued on 13th May 1945, only a few days after VE Day on May 8th, adopted a harsh tone, stating in the first paragraph that:
“The following five points will be the dominant themes of all output:
a) The completeness of Germany’s defeat in the field
b) The common responsibility of all Germans for Nazi crimes
c) The power and determination of the Allies to enforce their will
d) The unanimity of the Allies
e) The spiritual importance of the individual”
In the main body of the directive, four points were emphasised:
"Completeness of Germany’s defeat
The common responsibility of all Germans for Nazi crimes: Concentration Camps
Unanimity of the Allies
Food production" and the need for maximum effort by all Germans to avoid famine.
There was no change in policy in the second directive, issued on May 20th, which stated clearly: “There are no changes in the main themes given in Policy Directive No 1.”
But in the third directive, for the week beginning 27th May, there was a distinct change in tone:
“1. The basic themes laid down in Policy Directive No 1 (para 1) remain valid but points (a) and (b) should no longer be dominant. While not allowing them to be glossed over, the emphasis should now be shifted to more positive aims. We should now gradually begin to lessen the harshness of our tone.
2. The immediate need, from both Allied and German points of view, is for a supreme effort by the Germans at all forms of reconstruction work. The devastation and dislocation in Western Germany is on a scale far greater than in any other occupied zone with the exception of BERLIN, and is such that without positive encouragement from ourselves, in place of the negative impression created by continual insistence on the fact of German defeat, the Germans are likely to prove incapable of finding within themselves the moral energy needed for reconstruction.
3. What is now required is to show the Germans that considerable reconstruction activity is already in progress under Allied impetus …..
4. To sum up: make it very clear to the Germans that we do not want to see them go under as a people and that (points (a) to (d) of policy directive No. 1 notwithstanding) we do want to see Western Germany build itself up again, as far as possible by its own efforts, into a prosperous though controlled community.”
Directive no 4, dated 8 June, continued this new theme, stating explicitly that policy had now changed:
“1. Directive No.1 prescribed a predominantly negative attitude designed to produce passive acquiescence. It is now superseded and emphasis will henceforth be laid on the following:
a) The encouragement of genuinely democratic persons to assist in the urgent tasks required by Mil Gov…
b) The encouragement of cultural activities
c) The exposure and discrediting of the National Socialist/Militarist regime coupled with the responsibility of the German people for supporting it…
d) The power and fundamental agreement of the Allies
e) The spiritual importance of the individual, and his duties towards the community”
Unfortunately nothing in this file explains the reasons for this change in policy. I am not aware of any formal change in policy by the British government in London and it seems to me it must be linked with Field Marshal Montgomery’s appointment as Military Governor of the British Zone. In his memoirs he describes how, following the unconditional surrender, he had “suddenly become responsible for the government and well-being of about twenty million Germans. Tremendous problems would be required to be handled and if they were not solved before the winter began, many Germans would die of starvation, exposure and disease.… As the days passed after the end of the German war I became increasingly worried at the lack of any proper organisation to govern Germany.”
Montgomery flew to London on 14th May to “impress on the Prime Minister the urgent need for a decision in the matter” (ie the appointment of a Military Governor) and succeeded in being appointed Commander in Chief of the British forces in Germany on 22nd May. Now that he had been given the necessary authority, he could make the changes in policy he thought necessary himself. On May 23rd he addressed Control Commission staff in London and said: “Between us we have to re-establish civil control, and to govern, a country which we have conquered and which has become sadly battered in the process.” His biographer, Nigel Hamilton, commented on this speech: “Monty’s sympathy with the plight of Germany came as a shock to those in the auditorium who pictured him as a ruthless, Cromwellian commander, until two weeks ago waging implacable war upon the Nazis.”
He returned to Germany on 26th May, the day before Directive no 3 was issued, with the new emphasis on “more positive aims.”
PRISC Directives: May 1945 - March 1946
The National Archives, FO 1005/739
The first directives, numbers 1-9, were issued by the Headquarters of the British 21st Army Group. From number 10 onwards they were issued on behalf of “Major-General Information Services Control and Public Relations” following General Alec Bishop’s appointment to this position in July 1945.
Konrad Adenauer, Memoirs 1945-53, translated by Beate Ruhm von Oppen (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1966), Chapter 6 ‘The Turning Point’ pp 89-106
Anne Deighton in Ian D. Turner (ed), Reconstruction in Post-War Germany: British Occupation Policy and the Western Zones 1945-1955, (Oxford: Berg Publishers Ltd, 1989), p25
John E. Farquharson, ‘From Unity to Division: what prompted Britain to change its policy in Germany in 1946.’ European History Quarterly, Vol.26 1996, pp 81-123
Petra Goedde, GIs and Germans: Culture, Gender, and Foreign Relations, 1945-1949 (Yale University Press, 2003)
The Memoirs of Field-Marshal The Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, (Collins, London: 1958)