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Was the Greatest tension during the second world war over Operation Overlord??

Updated on September 10, 2011

It’s debatable that the second front (originally to be called Operation Overlord) was a cause of tension between Russia and the West between 1941 and 1945. Stalin perceived the West’s delay as having political rather than military motivations. However, there were other disagreements causing tension, including Soviet actions in Eastern Europe, including the “Sovietisation” of Poland which was highly distasteful to the West and America’s economic expansionism. For a cause to be assessed as significant it must have had some sense of longevity and comprehensive secondary and also primary evidence to support it.

The Big 3 at the Tehran Conference. From left to right, Stalin (Russia), Wilson (America), Churchill (Britain)
The Big 3 at the Tehran Conference. From left to right, Stalin (Russia), Wilson (America), Churchill (Britain)

The Question of a Second Front

One argument claiming the second front as the most noteworthy cause of tension between Russia and the West is Roberts’, ‘The absence of a second front brought Soviet-American relations to a low point’. As Stalin repeatedly asked his allies to create a second front to reduce the force his army contended with, delays antagonised him; evidenced by Stalin wanting ‘to know if the English believe in Operation Overlord or simply speak of it to reassure the Russians’. This caused tensions by further fuelling Stalin’s suspicions that Anglo-American motives aimed to eliminate communism. His call came as early as 1941 as proof of longevity to this ongoing tension. Additionally, the West was equally antagonised by this issue. Churchill was reluctant to move a force into France evidenced by when the Russian Ambassador, Maisky, put forward Stalin’s call, ‘Remember, that only four months ago we in this island did not know whether you were not coming in against us on the German side’. Churchill ignoring Stalin’s pleas for assistance would have evidently caused tension especially as, ‘(Roosevelt) led the Russians to expect a front in Europe in 1942’, however, this did not occur in France until D-Day 6th June 1944.

The Other Side of the Coin

Although arguably these delays did cause significant tension as Operation Overlord required meticulous planning. This caused tension from the western perspective, as Gaddis claims planning would have been a quicker process were Russia not ‘ignoring Western requests for an exchange of military information’ and, ‘Russian Government showed few signs of appreciation for the aid it had received’. Arguably the delays caused more tension, especially for Russia who consequently distrusted the West. This is evidenced by Stalin’s increasing suspicions over his allies not answering his call, Davies reported from Moscow, (May 1943) that many Soviet leaders believed their allies wanted “a weakened Russia at the peace table and a Red Army that is bled white”’, and hoped the Nazi’s and Communists would destroy each other. Yet, the West’s intervention in North Africa (November 1942) and Italy (July 1943) was, arguably, Stalin’s Second Front, as ‘Britain’s presence in North Africa and the Middle East tied down significant Nazi Forces’. This would suggest tensions were lessened as Hitler committed troops to fight in these places. However ‘Stalin’s priority remained a second front in France to draw substantial German forces to the west’ so he remained, claiming ‘A campaign in Africa, Italy. They simply want to be the first to reach the Balkans’.

A B-25 which was one type of plane America provided
A B-25 which was one type of plane America provided
Memorial in Alaksa to the American Lend-Lease programme to the USSR
Memorial in Alaksa to the American Lend-Lease programme to the USSR

The Economic Front

Relating to tension over the Second Front was the question of aid as need for supplies was immense; the German attack producing unimaginable damage to Soviet industry. This is evidenced by Russia receiving ‘200000 military aircraft, 100000 tanks, 1900 locomotives, 11,075 rail wagons and 425000 trucks’ as part of lend-lease from America. Molotov explained how the second front tension declined as ‘the West would compensate by pumping supplies to the Eastern front’ This source suggests supplies were Stalin’s priority and not a second front evidenced by Stalin’s claim ‘If we had to deal with Germany one-to-one we would not have been able to cope because we lost so much of our industry'. However, Stalin’s came prior to losing major battles including the Battle of Kiev (September 1941). After this he renewed calls for a second front in France, and without it, lend-lease was, as Stalin said, ‘of little effect.’. By June 1944 this dispute had been resolved, so the longevity is significant, the 4 year delay being due to Soviets holding on to their military secrets, British Imperialism, American Ideology, and the West’s long term goal to rid the world of Communism making this a very large cause of tension.

The Polish Question

Poland was a major cause of tension from the outset of the war as Britain proclaimed ‘the Polish question as one of honour’. The British supported the democratic Polish government-in-exile in London Consequently, tensions emerged as Churchill, who fells Britain entered the war for Poland, repeatedly blocked policies detrimental to its independence. Russia, however, wanted to align Poland with them so to ensure secure borders and retain land gained under the Nazi-Soviet Pact. A further cause of Polish tension was Katyn. The Katyn massacre (1940) saw roughly 22,000 POW’s and police murdered, revealed when Germans discovered this mass grave, causing the London Poles, to demand genocide charges against Russia. However, arguably this caused minimal tensions as The West chose to believe Soviet lies as Stalin had recently won the Battle of Stalingrad, a major turning point in the war, and was contemplating a separate peace with the Germans. Warsaw (1944) was similar. On the Red Army’s approach the Home Army (AK), tried to liberate Warsaw themselves and the AK asked for Allied assistance. The West wanted to send supplies through an airlift, however, Stalin did not help the AK and denied the West the airspace they required to get supplies to Warsaw. This caused significant tension between Stalin and the West, Stalin claiming the AK were ‘a bunch of criminals’. Tensions were caused by Soviet actions, evidenced by an American Ambassador’s telegram saying ‘Russian Government’s refusal is not based on operational difficulties, nor on a denial of the conflict, but on ruthless political calculations’. Roberts supports this view as the West represented the London Poles and it was now obvious that ‘All the signs of a potentially amicable development of Polish-Soviet relations were shattered by the onset of intense inter-allied acrimony about aid to the Warsaw Uprising’.

Mass Grave at Katyn.
Mass Grave at Katyn.
The Big 3 at Yalta
The Big 3 at Yalta

A Short-lived Trouble

However, despite this causing an extreme amount of tension, it was short-lived and arguably this reduced its significance. This is supported by Roberts’ observation that ‘by the end of September inter-allied harmony had been restored’ and because Churchill started to make concessions to Stalin about Poland stating ‘Britain would be through with the London Poles and would certainly not oppose Russia’s Government under any condition at the peace table’ if the London Poles did not agree to Stalin’s conditions. Indeed it wasn’t until the Yalta conference (February 1945) that the matter was again addressed. Consequently it could be argued that this was an underlying cause of tension providing evidence that the issue of Poland was never truly resolved. This is further evidenced by the Lublin Poles still controlling all offices in Poland despite talks at Yalta saying they would no longer do so. This causing tension is evidenced by Roosevelt’s letter to Stalin stating ‘So far there has been a discouraging lack of progress made in the carrying out… of the political decisions which we reached at the conference, particularly those relating to the Polish question’. America interfering in Poland causing tension from Russia’s perspective is evidenced by Stalin’s letter to Truman saying ‘Russia’s Government was not consulted when in 1944 (Greek and Belgian) Governments were being formed,… because it realises how important they are to the security of Britain’. Therefore, Poland was a major cause of tension for both sides. However most of the incidents such as the Warsaw Uprising that caused flashpoints of tension were short lived.

Collapsed and defaced statue of Petru Groza
Collapsed and defaced statue of Petru Groza

The Rest of Eastern Europe

Eastern Europe was of high importance to all allies, resulting in tension. Roberts supports this by suggesting that ‘Stalin seemed unperturbed by developments in Bulgaria and Romania but he must have been more than a little peeved at Anglo-American interference in his sphere if influence’. This is supported, by Hanhimaki and Westad’s primary accounts, yet ‘in summer 1945 there were ominous signs of the tensions and disputes that would eventually tear the Grand Alliance apart.… Stalin began lobbying… for western recognition of Bulgaria and Romania in May 1945… The Anglo-Americans responded by making it clear that they would not recognize the Groza government’. This suggests Eastern Europe was a huge cause of tension between the West and Stalin primarily relating to Stalin’s imposition of undemocratic governments. Britain in particular found Stalin’s actions antagonistic as evidenced by Leffler, ‘The British… were even more distrustful of the Russians than were the American officials’. Example actions specifically causing tensions include Hungary. Under Red Army occupation (September 1944). In 1943 Hungary had attempted to make an armistice with the West to avoid Soviet liberation, but this fell through. Stalin was keen to secure Russia’s borders by having friendly governments especially in previously Axis countries or countries close to Russia. Red Army actions in Bulgaria where 10,000 of the countries former ruling class were purged were completely against Western Atlantic Charter principles so this was a major cause of tension lasting the war’s duration.

Stalin Being a Good Guy?!?

However when the Soviet’s reached Budapest (December 1943) the communist party was too weak so Stalin left Hungary democratic. This shows Stalin working with the West and decreasing tensions significantly especially as at Tehran Stalin expressed that ‘It was a great mistake to unite Hungary with the Germans’. However, Stalin trying to calming tensions was ineffective as the West were angry about reparations, ‘Stalin believed his aims were compatible with maintaining the Grand Alliance but the West saw his actions in Eastern Europe as threatening’. However, additional evidence that Stalin’s Eastern European policy didn’t consistently cause tension is that the Red Army liberated Czechoslovakia (Winter 1944-45) and found that the locals welcomed them in preference to the West. Thousands of siding with the Communist Party led by Gottwald in Moscow as they were opposed to the Government-in-exile in London. However, Stalin forced Gottwald to accept the London Czech’s leader Benes as President to work together in a coalition government. The two usually conflicting sides met for the first time in Moscow in January 1945 and the Communist Party Secretary stated ‘here for the first time there was joined the battle of two political worlds’. This was therefore evidence that Czechoslovakia was a major cause in relieving tensions over Eastern Europe. Russia’s varied policy, except for Poland and countries that were security threats, shows Eastern Europe as a lesser cause of tension than previously believed, especially when considering the peaceful agreements made over Eastern Europe, including the Percentages agreement (1944), significantly reduced tension.

American Atom Bomb used on Japan
American Atom Bomb used on Japan

A Shadow in the West

Western economic policies during WW2 caused tension because ‘Stalin interpreted American refusal to give Russia a loan as a move to put pressure on him to accept American policies’. Stalin believed America was creating an economic empire in Eastern Europe, by using “dollar diplomacy” to force countries to follow their economic plan. There is evidence to support this view as America supported the London Poles claim to power as Poland’s markets would provide business for America. Williams agrees ‘Russia’s great recovery needs provided them with the leverage to re-establish the Open Door and pro-western governments in Eastern Europe’. These were monumental causes of tension as America already had a thriving economy, yet tried to secure countries vital to Russia aggravating Stalin greatly. Williams argues America used Atom bombs on Japan just after refusing Russia to take one of the northern islands for economic purposes. Additional evidence is that America attempted economic expansion in Russia through the use of credit ‘Harriman… proposed that the project should be defined as credit, rather than a loan, so that if it eventually went through, the United States could exercise extensive control over Russia’s use of the money’, for example allowing which it to be spent solely on American products to boost America’s economy.

American Dollar Diplomacy is my choice for the biggest cause of tension
American Dollar Diplomacy is my choice for the biggest cause of tension

What I think (if you care)

To conclude, the Second front was a cause of tension, as were the other factors, although how Russia treated Eastern Europe was of lesser significance due to the agreements they made including the Percentages Agreement. However, the second front disputes themselves now appear a lesser cause of tension. Out of all of these factors it had longevity but is outdone by American economic expansions by sheer causes and significance. American Dollar Diplomacy appears to be the most significant cause of tensions. This not only caused mass tension and disputes because it was ‘”disturbing”’ as Stalin himself said, but it also outlasted the war and continued on throughout the Cold War and the idea of American Dollar Diplomacy was so opposed to Russia, thus making American Dollar Diplomacy and their Economic Empire the most significant cause of tension.

Note to Reader: This was originally a piece of coursework I did for my History A-level, so I apologise for the formality of it all, my next hub will be the usual more informal article. Hope you still liked this though!!

Viewer's Choice

What do you think the largest cause of tension was?

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    • profile image


      4 years ago

      I doubt 2000000 military aircraft were given to Russia

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      All of the source information came from a variety of articles presented to us during my A-levels, sadly I no longer have these articles so can't tell you who they are from...

      But coming from quite a prestigious college I can only presume they are accurate :)

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      no like !

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      may i ask where you got your "economic front" information from? :)

    • WDG-writes profile image


      7 years ago from Philippines

      Thanx Divok... I am a researcher of for World Wars...and it is nice to find great sources here. keep writing

    • Divok profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Thnaks WDG! if you want more material like this check out written by a friend of mine jaskar. We both did the same coursework piece, but the resulting articles came out very differently!

    • WDG-writes profile image


      7 years ago from Philippines

      wow I am super exciting reading your article about the operation overlord! Yap there was a great tension at that time, but that was natural it is not easy to set on the table with the communist. But anyways great job! I will put this on my blog :


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