Feeding the enemy

July 7, 1995

Noel Annan discusses the conflicting aims of the allied occupiers of Germany. When prime minister Attlee and foreign secretary Bevin returned to Potsdam after the general election in 1945, British policy towards Germany was already fixed. Germany was to be ruled from Berlin by a government of the four powers that would issue directives to the allied commanders in each of the four zones. The Nuremberg trials were set up, and in each zone Nazis and militarists were to be rooted out so that new democratic parties could form.

The Morgenthau plan, initialled by Roosevelt and Churchill in Quebec in 1943, was dead. It had envisaged Germany as a pastoral state devoid of heavy industry, with two million Germans transported east of Berlin. But its ghost still walked. Massive reparations in the form of labour and industrial equipment were to be paid to the Soviet Union, which had suffered most.

Almost at once, however, an alternative foreign policy emerged. General Templer of the military government was told that he must expect that two million would starve to death that winter. He had no intention of allowing that to happen. So the conquering army and the civilians who had come from Britain to form the Control Commission, having spent two happy months requisitioning houses and stocking them with wine and schnapps, now set to work organising Germans to bring in the harvest, mend the sewage, clear the roads and canals and get the railways working.

The British zone became Britain's newest colony. Redoubtable former colonial officials dictated the new form local government should take. Meanwhile the dismantling of Ruhr steelworks and Hamburg dockyards began. The Control Commission staff believed they were going to occupy Germany for 20 years and they were there to re-educate the German people and teach them how to become a democratic nation.

This second foreign policy almost at once conflicted with the first. Marshal Zhukov objected that Templer, in gathering the harvest, was keeping the German army in being. In Parliament too the murmurs grew. Labour MPs asked why so many militarists and Nazis were still employed in the British zone? Why were there so few Social Democrats appointed to high German administrative posts?

Low on the list for de-mobilisation, I had been recommended by my old chief, the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, to join the Political Division of the Control Commission. My job was to let the Foreign Office know what was happening in Germany.

I also had a brief to keep an eye on the development of political parties. They were, after all, somewhat essential to the growth of democracy in Germany. But not in the eyes of the military government. To them political parties were potential trouble-makers. Since they could have no power, what were they, and trade unions, to do? They had no business to criticise the German civil servants whom the Control Commission had appointed to run affairs, still less the military government itself.

It was British foreign policy to encourage political parties to form; but in September 1945 the military government not only sacked Dr Adenauer as mayor of Cologne but put him under house arrest and forbade him to take any part in politics. Adenauer had been taking a leading role in setting up the new political party of the Christian Democratic Union. It was indeed already clear that he was likely to be elected leader of it and head of the most effective right-wing party. One of my first tasks was to get the ban on his political activities lifted without the military government losing face, and at the same time persuade Adenauer that the British wished him well. Meanwhile it was also clear that Kurt Schumacher was making a bid to become leader of the Social Democrat Party by making fiery speeches denouncing the cession of German territory east of the Oder-Neisse line.

But then came a further change in policy. We were changing enemies. Elections in eastern Europe showed the Russians that local communist parties would never win power in a free vote. They therefore decided in January 1946 to amalgamate forcibly the SPD with the Communist Party in their zone in Berlin. The western powers could not stop the fusion in the Russian zone; what were they to do in Berlin? One faction in the Foreign Office, led by Oliver Harvey, was defeatist: communism would inevitably come to the Rhine. Another faction led by Con O'Neill thought we should somehow prevent Berlin as a whole being governed by -what in an amalgamated SPD/KPD - would inevitably be a communist administration.

The British and American political chiefs - William Strang and Robert Murphy - havered. They were unwilling to breach quadripartite government. So indeed was Ernest Bevin, but he was not one to give in to communist bullying. The young British and American political staff refused to give up without a struggle. The SPD members in the western sector of Berlin opposed fusion but they needed help. So we brought Schumacher to Berlin. The Americans plastered the city with posters urging the SPD to vote against fusion, and we countered the communist press campaign. The SPD members in the western sectors courageously voted against fusion and became part of the western SPD under Schumacher.

This was the beginning of the division of Germany into two states. In the summer of 1946 the British decided to reorganise their zone into self-governing provinces. In 1947 the western allies revalued the currency and made it solely valid in western Berlin. That was the last year Bevin tried to maintain four-power government, and he found it impossible.

In 1948 the Russians blockaded Berlin and were defeated by the airlift. But the reason why British policy changed was as much economic as political. The terms of the American loan in 1946 were so harsh that the British ran out of money. Unless German industry could be revitalised and earn money, the cost of feeding and running Germany would fall on the British taxpayer. It was now clear that Germany would not be occupied for 20 years but would be ruled by its politicians. British policy, which from the earliest days was ambivalent, changed for one good reason. The cold war had begun.

Lord Annan served in British military intelligence during the second world war.

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