5th April 2009
For the last few weeks I’ve been writing about different aspects of Field-Marshal Montgomery’s year as Military Governor of the British Zone of Germany, based mostly on his unpublished ‘Notes on the Occupation of Germany’ held as part of his papers at the archives of the Imperial War Museum.
It seems to have been an extraordinarily active time for him. As I wrote last week, he repeatedly made the point that “our hardest task remains to be tackled”. After the destruction caused by war, the task of “rebuilding European civilisation” required the same, or even greater, levels of dedication, hard work and personal sacrifice, as winning the war had done.
It’s almost as if, in some ways, he didn’t want the war to end. The Battles of Normandy and of the Rhine, which culminated in the unconditional surrender of all German forces in North-West Europe on Luneburg Heath on May 4th 1945, were soon followed by the “Battle of the Winter” whose objectives, this time, were not to defeat the enemy, or capture territory, but “food, work and homes” for people in Germany.
He made a conscious decision that, in the absence of any functioning civil administration, he would use the army to tackle the chaos and confusion he found in Germany after the war, and operations ‘Overlord’, ‘Market Garden’ and ‘Plunder’ were followed by Operations ‘Barleycorn’ (the release of captured German POWs to work on the land and help bring in the harvest), ‘Coalscuttle’ (a further release of POWs to work in the coalmines of the Ruhr) and ‘Stork’ (the evacuation of young children from the British Zone in Berlin).
He issued four ‘personal messages’ to the population of the British Zone, addressing a civilian population of 20 million people in much the same way as he addressed his own troops before going into battle. As the number of soldiers under his command in Normandy, when he was supreme Allied Commander in July 1944, was around 2 million, perhaps the difference was not that great? In message no.3, for example, issued on 8th August 1945, exactly 3 months after the end of the war in Europe, he told the German people he was:
“… now going to proceed with the second stage of the Allied policy. In this stage it is my intention that you shall have freedom to get down to your own way of life, subject only to the provisions of military security and necessity. I will help you eradicate idleness, boredom, and fear of the future. Instead I want to give you an objective, and hope for the future.”
In his three ‘Notes on the Present Situation’ issued a little earlier, on 25th June, 6th and 14th July, and sent to his Corps Commanders and the Heads of Division of the British Control Commission, he had already outlined what he meant by the “second stage of Allied policy,” in some detail. For example in the second of these notes, he explained to his colleagues that:
“Two months have now passed since Germany surrendered and the country passed to the control of the Allied Nations.
During these two months the full extent of the debacle has become apparent; we now know the magnitude of the problem that confronts us in the rebuilding of Germany.
The coming winter will be a critical time. In the British Zone there will be a shortage of food, a very definite shortage of coal, inadequate services of transportation and distribution, and insufficient accommodation. Northwest Europe is very cold in the winter; the average temperature is freezing and heavy falls of snow are frequent; under such conditions people want food and warmth, and they are likely to lack both.
The great mass of 20 million people in the British Zone are in for a hard time this winter; they are apprehensive about food, about housing, and about the general unsettled conditions.
The best way to counteract this feat is to give them ‘hope’
It is clear that we must tackle the ‘battle of the winter’ energetically, and we must win it; for if we lost it, we would compromise the future.
We require a good short term plan to take us through the winter; this must be closely linked to the long term plan for the complete restoration of the economic life of Germany.”
Although this was not explicitly stated in these notes, it appears that, in his mind, the task of rebuilding civilisation in Europe was now closely associated with the urgent need for reconstruction in Germany. Existing policy, agreed by the Allies before the end of the war and implemented by SHAEF, the joint British and US Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force, was, in his view no longer relevant. As he explained in the Notes:
“I think some of our troubles are due to a tendency to adhere rigidly to SHAEF instructions issued previously; many of these instructions are now out of date.”
A week, later, in the third Note, he was able to say that he had been given authority, by the Government, to act on his own initiative in the British Zone, without waiting for joint agreement by all the Allies:
“In my ‘Notes of the Present Situation’ dated 6 July, I outlined the problem that is likely to confront us during the coming months and I gave my views on the methods we should adopt to deal with the situation.
It has now been agreed that the Directive issued to me as C-in-C [Commander-in-Chief] of the British Forces of occupation in Germany, and U.K. member of the Control Council, gives me full powers to begin work on the policy we want to adopt: without waiting for the Control Council to become fully operative…
Our present attitude towards the German people is negative, it must be replaced by one that is positive and holds out hope for the future.”
By the end of the year, the ‘Battle of the Winter’ seemed to have been won, but perhaps surprisingly, Montgomery’s outlook for the future had deteriorated rather than improved.
On 8th October 1945, he returned to England for a conference of the Chiefs of the Imperial General Staff, the most senior military body in the country, and didn’t return to Germany until the 27th.
In the ‘Notes on the Occupation of Germany’ he says he was first told he would be appointed CIGS or Chief of the Imperial General Staff on 26th January the following year, 1946, but he may have been given an indication of this during the conference, as for the remainder of the year, he appeared increasingly preoccupied with the problems faced by the British Army, (rather than those of the British Zone of Germany), arguing strongly that the army should not be reduced in size too much, too quickly. (The war against Japan had ended two months earlier with the surrender of Japan on VJ Day, August 15th 1945, following the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on 6th and 9th August).
In a paper Montgomery gave at the conference in October, he said he expected the occupation of Germany to last a long time, 20 years or more, and this represented an ideal opportunity to get training facilities for the British army, at no cost:
“An Army of occupation would be required in Germany for at least ten, and possibly twenty years … The Field Army should normally be kept and trained in Germany, where the cost would be borne by the Germans and where training facilities were magnificent.”
On 31st October he started a tour of the Army Corps in Germany in a special train ‘Lion’ meeting his troops and canvassing their views. His diary shows he made three separate tours, over the next two months, each lasting just under a week.
He continued to press the case that the number of troops should not fall below what he considered minimum requirements, arguing in December that although: “‘The Battle of the Winter’ is proceeding and it is my opinion that we shall win that battle… this is no time for complacency.”
“…the British Zone has remained quiet. So far scarcely a spark has occurred. I do not think we shall have any trouble with the Germans this winter; they are fully occupied with their own immediate troubles; our main problems this winter are more likely to be with the hard facts of economics; how to sustain the Zone with the minimum of starvation and disease.
Our conflicts with the Germans lie ahead; but they will come. Next year, 1946, is going to be a difficult time; the Germans will have got through the winter and will be feeling better; they will see their factories and coal being removed; they will realise that they themselves are not to be allowed to benefit from the recovery of their country.
We have removed from positions of responsibility a large number of Nazi Germans, all immensely capable people and first-class organisers; these people are now idle.
Our industrial and economic policy is such that there is bound to be widespread unemployment in Germany as time goes on.
We have demobilised in the Zone about two million fighting men and are now in process of adding about another half million to the figure.
It will be clear from this brief outline that there is much fertile ground in which to sow the seeds of discontent and trouble.
Therefore I am convinced that our conflicts with the Germans lie ahead, and may well begin next year.
It is essential that we should not let the strength of our armed forces in Germany run down too quickly…”
After returning home for the Christmas holidays, he saw the Prime Minister, Clement Atlee, on Christmas Eve and on January 3rd he addressed a full meeting of the Cabinet, at which, according to his ‘Notes’, he made the same points, but this time also stressing the need to import food, to prevent starvation the following year:
“… the 23 million Germans in the British Zone were peaceable now but might not be so in the future; and he emphasised that the outcome of the Battle of the Winter depended on the Imports of Wheat, without which the Germans would starve.”
In summary, it appears that, although this is not stated in the Notes, Montgomery was losing the argument with the government in London in at least three areas he considered crucial:
- the size of the army in Germany was being reduced too far
- imports of wheat might not be sufficient to prevent starvation, with resulting discontent and unrest, which could be difficult to control
- the level of industry proposed for the future German economy was not sufficient to prevent unemployment, promote economic reconstruction and give German people ‘hope for the future’
With hindsight, we know that after Montgomery left Germany in May 1946, British policy changed yet again in all three areas. Decisions were taken to maintain the British Army of the Rhine in Germany indefinitely (it is still there today), significant imports of wheat from the US were sent to Germany from 1946 onwards, and the very restrictive terms agreed by all the Allies at the Level of Industry Talks in Berlin in January 1946 were soon relaxed allowing German industry to expand from 1947 and 1948 onwards.
However, in early 1946 things looked very different. The conclusion Montgomery drew was that the consequences of the current restrictive British policy (as determined in London) was that the German people would look to Russia for support, rather than to the US or Britain, and that a hostile Germany combined with a communist Russia could be a serious threat to the security of Britain and the British Empire.
Before he left Germany, Montgomery expressed these concerns in two memos. The first, on the Problem in Germany, was dated 1 Feb 1946. In this he said that: ‘The Battle of the Winter’ had been won:
“No epidemics had broken out and the general health of the German people had been maintained. But the outlook for the future was now worse than ever before…. The future level of German economy would cause distress and unemployment; the influx of refugees was just beginning; all stocks of consumer goods had now been used up. The next battle would be more serious than the ‘Battle of the Winter.’”
His final ‘Notes on the German Situation’ are dated 1st May 1946, the day before he left Germany. Montgomery claims in his Memoirs he took it back to England and "handed a copy personally to the Prime Minister" (though not to his successor as Military Governor in Germany, Sholto Douglas, who complained later that he had never been given these and only learnt of their existence many years later). In these final Notes Montgomery wrote that:
“The general picture was sombre if not black. The food crisis overshadowed all else, but there were other serious factors. The whole German economy was sick. Coal was short, industries lay idle, and there were few goods in the shops. The level of industry agreement was bound to cause distress and might produce unemployment. The result of this situation was the beginning of inflation.”
He went on to say there was a need for “a concrete plan designed to bring about a change of heart in the German people”. The foundation for the plan was “the economic line of attack” and Germans must have “a reasonable standard of living; they must be given some hope for the future…”
“I gave it as my opinion that if we did not do this, we would fail in Germany.
We have not done it and I would say that at the moment there is a definite danger that we may fail. By that I mean there is a danger that if things do not improve the Germans in the British Zone will begin to look EAST. When that happens we shall have failed, and there will exist a definite menace to the British Empire. In this connection, much communist propaganda is coming westwards over the ‘green frontier.’
The people living inside that Germany must be given a reasonable standard of living, and hope for a worth-while future.”
“We must decide whether we are going to feed the Germans, or let them starve. Basically we must not let them starve; if we do, then everything else we do is of no avail.
It does not look at present as if we can increase the ration beyond the present rate of 1042 calories; this means we are going to let them starve: gradually.
In spite of the difficulties of the world food situation, we must get back to a reasonable ration standard in the British Zone as quickly as possible. The discrepancies which exist between the standard of feeding in our Zone and that in other Zones must be removed by agreement on a common standard.
… above all, we must tell the German people what is going to happen to them and to their country. If we do not do these things, we shall drift towards possible failure. That ‘drift’ will take the form of an increasingly hostile population, which will eventually begin to look EAST.
Such a Germany would be a menace to the security of the British Empire.
On the other hand, a contented Germany with a sound political framework could be a great asset to the security of the empire and the peace of the world.”