UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The western allies, the German opposition, and the search for peace, 1939-1944 Hatton, Stephen John


Since the end of the Second World War, a debate has raged among historians over the Allies’ treatment of the German opposition. One school of thought, represented by Richard Lamb and Gerhard Rifler, asserts that the opposition would have been in a better position to oust Hitler had the Allies been more forthcoming with aid and encouragement. This would have resulted in shortening the war, with the requisite saving of lives and lessening of destruction. The other school, represented by John Wheeler-Bennett, asserts that the Allies were correct in refusing to deal with the opposition prior to a successful coup in Germany. However, the fact that this debate also raged within Allied government circles during the war itself is often ignored. And most important, the effect of the Allies’ effective abandonment of their unconditional surrender formula in the case of Italy on their treatment of the German opposition has yet to be studied. By re-examining the memoirs and diaries of the principals involved, the diplomatic papers of the British and Americans, and the public speeches and comments of the Western Allied leaders, it is possible to get a better picture of the Western Allies’ attitudes towards the German and Italian opposition movements and their views on surrender policy. Faced with a war which his planners stated would last at least three years, it is easy to see why Chamberlain clung to his pre-war appeasement mode of thought, if it could be applied to a non-Nazi Germany. As a result, he ignored those who advocated a hardline position on Germany and authorized contacts with the opposition through the Netherlands and the Vatican. However, Hitler’s escalation of the war in April, 1940 and the opposition’s failure to act against him illustrated the bankruptcy of Chamberlain’s policy. Whereas Roosevelt viewed the war as a moral crusade which did not allow for “good” Germans, Churchill’s attitude was more ambivalent. He wanted to use Germany as a buffer against the Soviet Union but did not want to aid the German opposition. However, both leaders viewed Italy more favourably which led them to soften their demands on Italy once Mussolini had been removed from power. Churchill later expressed the hope that the German opposition would draw the obvious lesson from Italy’s “very favourable” treatment during surrender negotiations. The Allied demand for unconditional surrender did not prevent the Germans from acting to remove Hitler, as the March, 1943 bomb plot shows. In addition, by the time of the July 20, 1944 attempt on Hitler’s life, the opposition leadership had accepted unconditional surrender as a given condition. Finally, the assertion that Allied encouragement would have helped the German opposition to succeed is untenable. Not only were the Allies unwilling to repeat Woodrow Wilson’s mistake by giving assurances prior to the end of hostilities and were determined to keep the Soviets in the Allied camp, but also the opposition leadership in Germany was determined to act without any such assurances. In the end, no Allied assurances would have helped Stauffenberg’s bomb to kill Hitler, nor would they have prevented the bungling on the part of the conspirators in Berlin which led to the failure of the enterprise. The debate between the hard and soft-liners was rendered mute by the failure of the July bomb plot. However, it did show that there were some in Allied circles who worked to change the official policies of “absolute silence,” “no contacts,” and “unconditional surrender.”

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