21st February 2009
Two weeks ago I wrote about Field-Marshal Montgomery, as Military Governor of the British Zone of Germany after the war, and his unpublished 'Notes on the Occupation of Germany' which are held with his papers at the Imperial War Museum.
In this post I’ll say something about what he wrote in the first volume of the 'Notes', which covers the period from the end of the war in Europe on May 8th, to July 14th 1945.
According to the ‘Notes’, the situation at the end of the war had not developed as anticipated. German central government had collapsed and the unconditional surrender had been signed by the German military command, not the government. There was also uncertainty as to the intentions of the Russians in their Zone:
“The Allies were therefore faced with a situation very different to that which had been envisaged at the meetings between Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin, in which the Allied organisation for the occupation of Germany was discussed…. the machinery whereby a central government could function no longer existed. Furthermore a firm ‘frontier’ had already sprung up between the zone held by the Western Allies and that held by Russia and the Russians had imposed a strict control on all traffic through their lines.”
Conditions in Germany were chaotic:
“When the war ended, the chaos and confusion throughout Germany was immense. No central government machine existed; large numbers of displaced persons of all European nationalities were roaming the country, often looting as they went; the transportation and communication services had ceased to function; agriculture and industry were largely at a standstill; and there was a serious risk of an outbreak of famine and disease during the coming months.”
And there was no framework in existence to manage this:
Military government organisation, as already implemented during the campaign following the D-Day invasions and the Battle of Normandy was intended to be a temporary measure only, to “control the civilian population only sufficiently to prevent it from interfering with the operational requirements of the armed forces. For this reason planning by the Military Government organisation was based solely on meeting short-term needs.” The situation in Germany was different from that in France, Belgium and the Netherlands and “An organisation to plan and direct the activities of the community over a long-term period was now urgently required.”
Montgomery wrote in the ‘Notes’ that he had been informed privately that he would be appointed Military Governor of the British Zone and the British member of the Allied Control Council, but as the days went by, he became increasingly concerned that no appointment had been made. As a result he flew to London on May 14th to argue the case directly with the Prime Minister.
He “arrived in England at a politically unfavourable moment” as the wartime coalition government was coming to an end and politicians’ minds were on other things. He had dinner with Winston Churchill, but had “the greatest difficulty in getting the Prime Minister to consider the problems of Government in Germany as of such importance as to require an immediate decision.”
(This was a time of political uncertainty in Britain. The wartime coalition was dissolved soon after the end of the war and a general election held on July 5th. The result, victory for the Labour Party, was not declared until July 26th and in the meantime, Winston Churchill remained Prime Minister.)
Montgomery “was very disturbed by the Prime Minister’s procrastination” and although gaining approval for his own appointment, there was still a difference of opinion as to who should be his deputy. As a result he “returned to the attack in a telegram to the Prime Minister …” Once the issue of appointing a deputy was resolved, there was still a difference of opinion as to when the appointments would be announced. “After a somewhat acrimonious exchange of telegrams the Prime Minister finally gave way and agreed to announce the appointments …”
As soon as his appointment was announced, on May 22nd, he summoned the heads of divisions of the British Control Commission, (who had been waiting in London as a kind of embryonic government), to a meeting, and told them that they would be deployed to Germany as soon as possible, and located somewhere, still to be decided, in the British Zone, rather than in Berlin.
He returned to Germany on May 26th and four days later, on May 30th, issued his first 'Personal message to the population of the British Zone', (which was printed and displayed in prominent places throughout the Zone). In this he said his object was: “to establish a simple and orderly life for the whole community, and to see that the population had food, housing and freedom from disease; that those who had committed war crimes would be punished in the proper fashion; and that the armed forces would be disarmed and disbanded, and would then be discharged to their home areas, first and foremost to bring in the harvest and then to restart the life of the community.”
Montgomery’s description of events in the 'Notes' raises a few questions:
Firstly, what was the reason for the delay in his appointment as Military Governor? A German historian, Jochen Thies, has written that the diplomat Yvone Kirkpatrick was previously considered for the post, but I haven’t checked the references to this in the archives. Kirkpatrick himself says nothing about this in his autobiography.
Secondly, why did Montgomery use such strong language about his interviews with Churchill and the delays in confirming his appointment? What did he hope to achieve in Germany after the war and why did he seem to treat this as if it were a personal mission? Why didn’t he rest on his laurels, return to Britain, and enjoy the adulation of the crowds?
One possible clue is provided in a speech he gave in June 1945, on receiving the freedom of the City of Antwerp, which is included as one of the appendices in the 'Notes'. In subsequent months he gave similar speeches on receiving honours from other cities across Europe. What is noticeable in this and other speeches, it seems to me, is not just the sentiments, but the force and passion with which they are expressed. The death and destruction of war must have made a profound impression on him. In this speech, he said that victory on its own was not enough. Even the destruction of the evil of Nazism, on its own, was not enough, as in so doing “much that was good and beautiful had also been destroyed.” Here is the relevant passage:
“Our first task in now ended. Together we have won the war, and have destroyed the Nazi tyranny of Europe. Our hardest task remains to be tackled. Out of the chaos and confusion which the war has inflicted on Europe we have to rebuild our European civilisation. In destroying the Nazi power, we have destroyed one great evil; much that was good and beautiful has also been destroyed, and the economic organisation of Europe lies in ruins. We can rebuild what has been destroyed only by toil and sweat, and there is no short cut back to prosperity. In this gigantic task the Allied Nations must continue to co-operate in that same spirit of service to the common cause of freedom which has so strengthened us during the stress and strain of war.
Together we have achieved much in war; may we achieve even more in peace.”
'Notes on the Occupation of Germany' part 1
Imperial War Museum reference: BLM 85