Just Because They’re Allies, Doesn’t Mean They’re Friends: The Unusual Alliance between the USSR, US, and UK.

“This is what will happen to the Fascist Beast!” Soviet Propaganda from 1944, displaying the alliance between the USSR, US, and UK. Created by Alexei Kokorekin (1905-1959).

One of the most peculiar things, that I believe, occurred as a result of World War II, was the alliance between the Soviet Union, the United States , and the United Kingdom. This was an alliance that was, from the get go, purely strategic and was, on several occasions, riddled with suspicions  of and tensions with one another, at least the US and the UK towards the USSR and vice versa. Even so, they all had a mutual enemy that was proving to be much of a threat that they all decided to form this alliance. This alliance began in 1942 when, the United States, through the creation of the  Lend-Lease Agreement, and the United Kingdom, through the creation of the 20-year Mutual Assistance Agreement, began to supply the Soviet Union with food, weapons, ammunition, and vehicles much needed for the war and, on part of the US, provide a $1 billion loan, free of interest.

And while such supplies and finances were very much welcomed and appreciated by the Soviets, and were even later credited with shortening the war (Freeze, pg. 390), what Stalin really wanted was military action. More specifically, he wanted the US and the UK to open a second front in the West to draw German forces away from Soviet territory, something he had been vying for since 1941.  However, instead of opening a western front, Roosevelt and Churchill, in 1942, opted for a North African campaign that would have them moving up north towards the Italian peninsula. Much to Stalin’s disapproval, a second front in the west would not be opened until June of 1944, with the invasion of Normandy. But this was no surprise to him. In fact, Stalin had been worried that Roosevelt and Churchill would work against him on the idea of a opening a second front, if anything this was just a confirmation of his worries. Even so, he did regard the invasion of Normandy as being a “treacherous delay” as he had been led to believe that it would happen a year earlier (Butler, pg. 113-114) which, when it did not arrive, had Stalin extend peace feelers towards the Germans in 1943 (Freeze, pg. 389).

This “delay” and very unfortunate lack of communication at a very pivotal time in the war, wasn’t the only trouble these Allies had when dealing with one another. For Churchill and Roosevelt, Stalin’s evasiveness and penchant for secrecy were thought of as very irritating (Freeze, pg. 389). They also, after having to deal with the aftermath of miscommunication with Stalin, were truly terrified of the prospects of peace between the Soviets and Germans, as they viewed the Soviets as being essential to keep the Germans at bay in the Eastern front and to the eventual defeat of Japan (Freeze, pg. 389).  As a result, they both realized that they would need to concede to Stalin in order maintain the alliance and keep the Soviets in the fight.

As we can see, this alliance, wasn’t the most stable. And these world leaders, were not on the friendliest of terms, but in the end they set out to achieve their shared goal, putting an end to the War in Europe . And In the following video, we see the Big Three (Jospeh Stalin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill) meeting for the first time in Tehran, Iran at the Soviet Embassy to discuss their plans for post-war Europe. (I ask that you all pay attention to the gift giving between Churchill and Stalin and the overall interactions, or lack thereof, between the three leaders.)

 

After seeing their interactions, it reminds me again just how unusual this alliance truly was. Here you have three leaders, two of which have very similar backgrounds, but another who is seen as an outsider and a threat to the other two and vice versa, but even so, they worked together. Because, for the time being, they all had a common enemy and even if they viewed each other with suspicion and contempt, they all knew that they needed each other and had to suck up their pride and do what was necessary to get the job done.

Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History Third Edition . Oxford University Press, 2009.

28 Replies to “Just Because They’re Allies, Doesn’t Mean They’re Friends: The Unusual Alliance between the USSR, US, and UK.”

  1. I like the inclusion of the video, it was pretty interesting. I find it interesting that the allies waited until 1944 to open up the second front in France, once the Soviets had already inflicted multiple decisive blows on the German war machine.

    1. Right? But, to make up for a lack of invasion as they were fighting in the Pacific and North Africa, the US and UK instead conducted a massive joint Anglo-American bombing campaign, which, to their credit, got the Germans to train their focus on the Allies in West and no so much focus on the Soviets in the East, alleviating enough pressure to give them a chance to regroup.

  2. I love the way you frame the analysis of the newsreel, which is awesome! Your discussion grapples with the inherent tensions of the Grand Alliance — wrinkles in which are definitely evident in the film….and this was the high water mark of cooperation. I agree that the presentation of the Leningrad sword is remarkable in terms of the casting — especially when you see how personal Churchill was about the birthday gifts he receives a few minutes later.

    1. Yeah! I thought that was a very interesting thing to observe back to back. Two very different gift exchanges, one very ceremonial and formal with the only notable reaction being from Stalin when he kissed the hilt of the sword before giving his gift away, which I found to be kinda odd even though I understand why he would do it, and the other being more sentimental and genuine.

  3. Alyssa, I am just as suspicious and bewildered as you were when looking over this alliance. They obviously all had their own goals in mind and a common enemy, but it was also obvious that they were uncomfortable working with each other. I have to ask, what kind of coalition is stronger: one where all parties are friends, or, one where all parties have something to lose if one party dissents?

    1. An alliance is based on mutual cooperation, trust, to an extent, and understanding of and by a set of nations and governments towards a set goal, fixed or otherwise. A strong, well balanced alliance would entail that the parties involved have a mutual understanding of, willingness to cooperate with, and trust of one another. That they have a specific, agreed upon goal, and that no one party holds more authority over another without the specific designation or delegation of such. The alliance between the USSR, US, and UK was unstable in that there was a lack of trust and understanding of one another (specifically on part of the US and UK towards the USSR), there was an imbalance of power and authority in certain situations, and while they did have a goal in mind, take down Nazi Germany, they all had different focuses and ways in which to achieve it. So what I’m trying to say is that a strong alliance, one that can last, is made by parties actively seeking to work together and cooperate towards a designated goal, not by ones that stick together only because they have to to ensure their own survival.

      1. Alyssa, Great blog. It was as you wrote “strange alliance based on mutual cooperation, trust, to an extend and understanding of and by a set of nations and governments towards a set goal, fixed or otherwise” However the relationship was undermined by the spying of Stalin on the American atomic bomb project. At the July 1945 Potsdam Conference, when Truman informed Stalin of the atomic bomb, he said that the United States “had a new weapon of unusual destructive force”, but Stalin had full knowledge of the atomic bomb’s development because of Soviet spy networks inside the Manhattan Project, and he told Truman at the conference to “make good use of this new addition to the Allied arsenal”. The ability of the US to get such information about the USSR was very limited but the Soviets were able to penetrate our Los Alamos site in New Mexico. So the Alliance while intended to be built on trust did not achieve that intention.

        1. The United States, even before the war, had their suspicions about the Soviet Union and Stalin. So I do not believe that it came as a shock to the US government when it was revealed that Soviet spies had infiltrated the Manhattan Project, if anything it would just confirm that the Soviets were not truly an ally of ours and were in fact a threat to the US.

  4. Awesome post Alyssa! The video you included was such a cool addition, and it really is amazing to see just how indifferent Stalin seemed to be to that entire meeting. The idea you mentioned about the similarities can be seen in the video, where you have Roosevelt and Churchill seemingly joking back and forth. Then you see Stalin just sitting looking the other way. Of course the language barrier probably didn’t help, but your entire post conveys that idea of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” in the Alliance between the Western powers and the Soviet Union.

  5. This post is very good at encapsulating the peculiar relationships that had significant post-war consequences. As Freeze mentions, the Red Army accounted for most of the casualties inflicted on the German army making the Soviets essential to the allied war effort. There is a book by Lynne Olson titled “Citizens of London” that details the relations between FDR, Churchill, and Stalin. Olson mentions how the US made tremendous concessions to Stalin sometimes without consulting Churchill which gave Churchill the impression that FDR was pandering to the desires of Stalin. Do you think that the allied concessions to Stalin coupled with the suspicious relations among the 3 leaders contributed to the start of the Cold War? Great post!

    1. I believe that concessions were made more so to maintain the peace and keep their alliance afloat. However, I believe that it was the mutual suspicions of one another and the emergence of a new world order, in which the US and its allies, including the USSR, came out on top. Not to mention that both the US and USSR at the end of WWII were wanting to expand their spheres of influence on the world and that before the war, both nations didn’t really like each other to begin with. Once the war concluded, it is no surprise that they would return to being
      adversaries.

  6. I think you did a much better job analyzing the complexities of the Grand Alliance than I did. Your post does a great job of highlighting how difficult and complex the relationship between the three powers was, especially the relationship between the Western Allies and the Soviet Union.

  7. Nice post Alyssa! I agree with you that this alliance is confusing and unusual, and I really liked the addition of the newsreel! Just from watching the newsreel you can see that these three aren’t in an alliance because they’re all friends and everything is great, but because they have to be to survive. The part of the newsreel that caught my eye the most was the footage of the three leaders sitting and (sort of) talking to each other – because you have Roosevelt and Churchill all buddy-buddy and Stalin is just sitting there. It shows the nature of the relationships in the way that the US and the UK would still be allies after the war was over, but the USSR was only included because it was necessary for victory.

    1. Right? It truly fascinating that we were able to see the relationships between the USSR, US, and UK through the interaction of their leaders.

  8. I love your post, Alyssa! I especially liked the video you included. There’s a moment in the video, pretty close to the end, where you can see FDR chatting with Churchill and the advisors standing behind them. When the camera pans to Stalin, you just see him sitting there, seemingly irritated, and not at all concerned with what the pair are chatting about. Maybe it’s the language barrier, but I feel like the body language you see here is rather metaphorical to the issues within this alliance. Stalin is on the outside of a very long alliance between the US and the UK. An alliance with Russia was a much-needed convenience, and it’s very clear they were all aware of that fact.

    1. I don’t think it was a language barrier issue, as each leader brought their own translator to the conference, but more of an issue of Stalin knowing that this alliance was on its way out and that he was the outsider in this group, as the other two were had a very tight knit relationship.

  9. I found the reactions of the three leaders in the video comical in a sense because I’m sure they wanted that meeting to be over as quick is possible with a plan for Germany and Japan after the war, but instead they have to shower each other with gifts to show their respect for one another.
    I really like this topic too because it was a very interesting alliance. Even though they were forced to work together to crush the common enemy, I’m sure every move that they made they were taking into consideration how it might affect them after the war.

    1. I found the gift exchange to be very performative as well. If anything, besides the meaning behind the exchange, I believe it was meant to show the world that the UK and the USSR were in this fight together and to try and promote the alliance as having a face of strength and resilience.

  10. Alyssa, I really liked this post because it highlights one of the many misconceptions about World War II. Even though the USA, UK, and USSR shared a common enemy, does not mean they were on great terms. I also liked how you discussed the personality clashes between the big three, and how these clashed potentially shaped the war.

  11. Hey Alyssa, I really liked how your post centered on a topic that is often on the back burner for most people when they talk about WWII. I think that many of the discrepancies that occurred during WWII obviously impacted and set the course for the Cold War that followed soon after. In addition to the UK and US not creating a western front earlier, I think the fact that they cracked Enigma but didn’t tell the Soviets was also very important in ruining the relationship.

    1. If there is one thing I found throughout this very unusual alliance, it is that all parties didn’t fully trust one another. And that’s something that can ruin any relationship

  12. Alyssa, good post. It is a very peculiar alliance for sure! I guess it was necessary in order to defeat a common enemy! It didn’t last long after the war was over though

  13. Enjoyed the article Alyssa. I’m curious as to the thought process behind the Italian Campaign, going east and up through the Italian peninsula, if you happen to have any information about that? Did this have something to do with the Allies’ lack of trust in Stalin, or were there more militaristic benefits at hand behind the decision?

  14. well before they managed to get to the Italian peninsula, the North African campaign was conducted to, somewhat relieve pressure on the Eastern front and draw away Axis forces, but it was mainly conducted to prevent the Axis from gaining control of the Suez Canal, a strategic-geographical area, and oil reserves in the Middle East. Once the Allies were able to successfully secure these two things, they began to drive Axis forces out of North Africa and up into the Italian peninsula. So to answer your question, it was more about strategic, military benefits than it was about a lack of trust in Stalin.

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