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Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Stalin's conversation with Averell Harriman and others, Oct 17, 1944. From Library of Congress, H H Arnold papers, box 225

Conversation, October 17, 1944

Present: Marshal I. V. Stalin

Mr. V. H. Molotov, People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs
General of the Armies Antonov
Mr. Pavlov, Soviet interpreter

The American ambassador, Mr. Harriman

Major General John R. Deane
Mr. Edward Page, Second Secretary of Embassy
Subject: "Exploration"

Marshall Stalin handed to the Ambassador a list of the Soviet requirements in the Far East. (Translation of list attached.) The Ambassador inquired whether the Russians had storage capacity available for the supplies contained in the list, especially for the fuel, or would it be necessary to build additional capacity. Marshal Stalin stated that they bad some capacity but that additional storage space must be built. Mr. Molotov remarked that this question was foreseen in the list. With respect to item 15 on the list, General Antonov stated that the landing strips listed were similar to those at Poltava. The Ambassador inquired to what use the Soviets contemplated putting the landing craft listed. Marshal Stalin stated that first the Amur would be crossed and thereafter as the Army so desired. It was possible that they would be needed on the Sungare River. The Ambassador asked whether he was correct in his understanding that the total tonnage of food, oil, etc. would take care of the American Air Force as well as the Soviet Air Force in the area. Marshal Stalin replied in the affirmative. The Ambassador stated that the list must be studied and then General Deane would be ready to have conversations with General Antonov. Marshal Stalin said that Mr. Mikoyan would also participate in these meeting. The Ambassador said that the availability of the types of supplies enumerated in the list as well as shipping schedules would have to be considered. He would take up this question when he reached Washington. He inquired whether it was contemplated by the Soviet Government to bring as much as possible via Pacific ports and whether the ports in the west were also to be used. Marshal Stalin stated that it would be difficult to transport the supplies via the western ports since troops, ammunition, and artillery be moved to the east and the Soviet Government had only one railroad at its disposal.

The Ambassador inquired whether some shipments could be started before the troop movements. The Marshal replied that he did not know. It was desired to start the movement of ammunition at once. He requested General Antonov to look into this matter.

The Ambassador stated that he noticed that no bombs were included on the list and that therefore he had assumed that they would be supplied by the Soviets. The Marshal replied in the affirmative but added that this was so as far as the Soviet Air Force was concerned. He explained that the list comprised only a two months' reserve. With respect to current needs, the Soviet Government would undertake to supply all current needs, including bombs for aircraft. He indicated that he thought it would be necessary for technical reasons for the United States to supply the bombs for its Air Force. The Ambassador remarked that the American Air Force had had some experience with Soviet bombs which had been satisfactory and asked whether it might not be possible to use them in the Far East. The Marshal stated that if the Soviet bombs were suitable for American aircraft it would be quite agreeable to him to supply them.

The Ambassador inquired whether it would be safe to store the supplies enumerated in the list in the Vladivostok area, or whether it was intended to move them from the north. Marshal Stalin explained that the supplies would be stored in a valley 100 to 150 kilometers north of Vladivostok and also in the Komsomolsk area. He commented that in the initial stages of the war against Japan it would be necessary to bomb Japan from the Vladivostok and Primoria area. It would be more feasible, however, to bomb northern Japan from Komsomolsk and Sakhalin. Pursuit planes would be used primarily to protect the Trans-Siberian Railroad. The Japanese would of course attack the railroad by air during the first stages of the war, but when the Russian invasion proceeded southward there would be less need to protect the railroad.

The Ambassador inquired whether the Soviet Commands would move anti-aircraft to the Far East to protect the airfields and other installations. Marshal Stalin stated that they would be able to do so.

The Ambassador stated that when General Deane had spoken the other night he had advanced certain thoughts of the Chiefs of Staff on the role the Russian armed forces might play in the Far Eastern war. He continued that he would be interested to learn the Marshal's reaction to General Deane's preliminary suggestion. The Marshal requested General Deane to repeat his remarks.

General Deane stated that the Chiefs of Staff had suggested the following Soviet objectives in their order of priority:

  1. To secure the Trans-Siberian Railroad and the Vladivostok and Komsomolsk area.
  2. To establish a United States-Soviet Strategic Air Force, this airforce to bomb Japan Proper and to interdict Japanese communications lines to the mainland.
  3. The Soviet land operations to destroy the Japanese forces in Manchuria.
  4. Concurrently, to seoure the route across the Pacific in order to safeguard supplies and to open up the Port of Vladivostok.

Marshal Stalin asked whether the American Chiefs of Staff had joint land operations under consideration The Ambassador replied that only Soviet land operations in Manchuria were contemplated.

The Marshal said: "If we are thinking seriously about defeating the Japanese, we cannot be limited to the Manchurian region. We shall strike direct blows from different directions in Manchuria. But to have real results we must develop outflanking movements - blows at Kalgan and Peking. Otherwise the assaults in Manchuria alone will produce no important results. I do not believe that the major battles will be so much in Manchuria as in the south where Japanese troops are to be expected to be found when they withdraw from China. The problem that faces us is to prevent the Japanese from withdrawing from China into Manchuria. Our objective is to see to it that the Japanese forces in China cannot be used by the Japanese in Manchuria. That is my observation. Regarding the other objectives set forth by General Deane - I have no objection."

General Deane inquired whether the Peking operations would be amphibious through Tsientsin or by land through Mongolia. The Marshal indicated on a map that they would be outflanking movements through Ulan-Bator and Kalgan, following the "old Mongol route".

The Ambassador inquired whether it would be of interest to him if United States forces occupied the northern Kurile Islands in order to secure the supply route, at least to Nikolaevsk and other northern ports. The Marshal replied that that would he would be of great interest to the Soviet Government. The Ambassador continued that the question would then be: How soon could the port of Vladivostock be reopened? There was one American proposal to the effect that southern Sakhalin should be cleared of the Japanese by Soviet land operations. Was this suggestion of interest? Marshal Stalin again replied in the affirmative, He continued that the sea positions should be strengthened and then the northern Korean ports should be occupied by Soviet land and land and sea forces, He remarked that the Soviets had some naval forces in the area - 50 or more submarines and a few destroyers. He added that the Soviet Navy was well acquainted with the Japan Sea - Soviet submarines were continually operating in these waters. Conferences must be arranged between officers of the United States Navy and the Soviet naval representatives in the Far Eastern area. The Ambassador inquired whether the Marshal wished to have United States naval vessels in the Japan Sea. Stalin replied in the affirmative.

Marshal Stalin remarked that the Japanese would probably make their first attack on Vladivostok and Petropavlovsk and possibly on Sakhalin, but their main effort would be against the first two named ports in order to occupy the airfields there. The Ambassador inquired whether, when the Japanese began to realize that the Soviets were building up their army in the Far Eastern area, they would initiate hostilities. The Marshal replied that he did not know but that it was characteristic of the Japanese to take the initiative.

The Ambassador indicated the Kamchatka area on the map and said that although it was not yet decided, plans had been prepared for the seizure of the northern Kurile Islands next spring. The Marshal indicated his approval and stated that if the northern Kurile Islands were occupied the passage through the islands would be secured for the United States Navy. Certain of the islands must be taken. The Ambassador explained that the plans envisaged the seizure primarily of the northern third of the islands. The Ambassador inquired whether there were any good ports on the eastern coast of Sakhalin. Stalin said that the ports were weak. Good ports existed in Kamchatka and also at Sovietskaya-Gavan. The Ambassador inquired whether there were many plans to improve the Sakhalin ports. The Marshal said that all plans had been concentrated on improving the facilities of Sovietskaya-Gavan. The Ambassador asked if the American Navy seized the northern Kurile Islands before the entrance of the Soviet Union into the war against Japan, would it be a wise move? Marshal Stalin stated that this would undoubtedly be of great advantage to the Allies. The Ambassador stated that on the other hand if the islands were not occupied before Russia's entry into the war, the ports and airfields in the Kamchatka area would be of great help in the operation. The Marshal said that of course it would be of real value to have bases in that area. The Ambassador continued that he did not know whether General Arnold wished to base very long range bombers in Kamchatka bases in view of the bad weather. However, if Marshal Stalin was ready to consider this matter, the Ambassador would take up the question with General Arnold. The Marshal indicated approval but stated that all the American Navy had bases in Kamchatka it must also have air protection. The Ambassador stated that the Navy would desire to have navy and air bases in Kamchatka. The Marshal said that this whole question must be thoroughly studied. The Soviet naval representatives must be brought into the picture. The Ambassador stated that he knew that Admiral King wished to have bases in the area under discussion. The Marshal appeared to have no objection to this desire and remarked that it seemed to him that the occupation of the northern Kurile Islands seemed to be the key to the operation of the United States Navy in that part of the Pacific.

The Ambassador inquired whether the Soviet Government had studied the question of opening up the route to Vladivostok. Stalin replied that the first consideration was to defeat the Japanese in the area. The Japanese would try to keep the ports isolated in view of the factories, shipyards, and repair facilities in Vladivostok.

The Ambassador stated that on October 15 the Marshal had spoken of Japanese penetration in Primoria and of certain initial reverses. How deep did the Marshal contemplate such reverses? The Marshal replied that in war one must figure on everything - the good and the bad. It could not be precluded that Vladivostok would be taken by the Japanese. This would not be easy for the Japanese but it must be taken into account. In reply to the Ambassador's question whether the Russians feared the cutting of the railroad just west of Khabarovsk, Stalin stated that it would be very difficult for the enemy to cut the railroad. They might bomb it but the Russian defenses were strong. They were also strong in the Vladivostok area, but combined Japanese land and sea operations before the Russians had time to finish their defensive preparations of Vladivostok might make it difficult to hold the city. If Vladivostok fell, then Sovietskaya-Gavan would be of prime importance.

The Ambassador inquired how many months of the year Nicolaus and Sovietskaya-Gavan were open. The Marshal stated that Petropavlovsk like Vladivostok was ice-free on an average of nine to ten months a year. Sovietskaya-Gavan was open six to seven months a year. lie added that the Soviet naval authorities could give accurate information on this question.

General Deane stated that American operations contemplated the invasion of Japan in the closing months of 1945. Prior to these operations the American armies would soften up Japan to the greatest extent by cutting off supplies from the south. As Marshal Stalin had outlined his operations, it would seem that the two plans were in coordination. The Ambassador stated that when the United States had placed emphasis on strategic bombing, it had no knowledge of the intensive plans which marshal Stalin bad just outlined. He now desired to know whether the Russians placed higher priority on the buildup for the ground forces or on strategic bombing. The Marshal replied "both at the same time". He continued that as soon as the Russians struck in the Manchurian-Mongolian regions, the Japanese would attempt to move troops to Korea. Their retreat must be cut off. Furthermore, if Japanese troops were cut off in China, the Allied task would be greatly facilitated.

The Ambassador said that General Deane had explained that the American Staff had plans to make landing operations on the China Coast in order to take airfields but said did not contemplate further operations in that area of China. Did Marshal Stalin agree with these plans? The Marshal stated that the Americans would cut off the Japanese garrisons on the southern islands and that the Russians would cut off the land forces in China. He agreed that this was the proper plan - however, it would be difficult to effect it. The Marshal stated that the plan to invade w Japan was a "grand undertaking". The Ambassador inquired whether the Marshal desired any more information on the American plans. The Marshal replied that everything was clear to him. The Soviet requirements must be studied in Washington. Some general agreement regarding the war must be reached. The Ambassador inquired whether the Marshal contemplated a political or military agreement. The Marshal answered "both". (See supplementary memorandum.) The Ambassador stated that preparatory to the agreement and in the meantime it was important for the American military and naval staffs to exchange information, especially with respect to where joint operations were envisaged end for planning for the various operations where the two countries were mutually concerned. The Marshal agreed. The Ambassador explained that when the Soviet and. American naval representatives got together on the Petropavlovsk plan it was possible that the Americans might wish to send an officer or two there to see and study what could be done. The Marshal again agreed and stated that this whole question must be carefully gone into. However, the need for utmost secrecy must be observed. The Marshal stated that he wished to explain why he was so insistent on security and caution. If there is any indiscretion he feared that information might leak out to the press which would cause the Japanese to embark on premature adventures as a result of which the valuable Vladivostok area might be lost. If Vladivostok were lost before major operations commenced, it would be extremely unfortunate for both countries. The Russians must move a certain number of divisions to the Far East. They must refresh their air force and send some tank corps to the area. After that was done the Marshal stated that he would not have such great fears of indiscretion or leaks to the Press. Then neither Petropavlovsk nor Vladivostok would be lost. He cautioned the taking of notes or writing of memoranda such as that before him.* Stenographers and secretaries were eager to tell news to their friends and thus military secrets no longer remained military secrets. "I am a cautious old man," he said.

The Ambassador stated that he wished to bring up the subject of the delivery of the four-engine bombers and the training of crews. Did the Marshal wish to start this project immediately? He continued that we wished to conform with the Marshal's wishes, and although we were ready to begin deliveries, me wished not to press the matter until the Marshal had indicated his approval. The Marshal stated that he was very much interested in the proposal and that he would inform the Ambassador when the Soviet authorities were ready. This, he thought, would be in about two weeks. He indicated that he wished to receive 10 to 20 bombers as a first installment and then a flow depended upon the training of pilots and the readiness of the fields. He explained that the present Soviet fields were small and must be enlarged. The Ambassador inquired whether the four-engine bombers would be reserved for the Far East for the build-up in that area or would they also be used against Germany. The Marshal stated that they would only be used in the Far East. "It would not be honest on our part to move them to the west," he said. The Marshal inquired up to how many units could be released to the Soviet Union. The Ambassador replied that the United States would wish to know how many the Soviet Government desired. The hundred had been discussed. General Deane explained that 10 bomber groups had been envisaged for the Far Eastern operation, consisting of 6 American groups and 4 Soviet groups. The total number of planes for Soviet groups was 200 operation bombers and 100 in reserve, as well as 300 long-range P-51 fighters and 150 in reserve. However, the question depended upon the logistics and the supply of gasoline. The eventual size of the Soviet Air Force in the last analysis would of course depend on these logistics. There would be many American planes available once the war with Germany and terminated. The question was where would they he used and how would they be supplied? The number of fields and supplies available, as well of course as the desires of the Soviet Government, were the principal factors involved. The Marshal stated that the size of the Soviet Air Force would be restricted first by fuel considerations and then by the number of fields available,. The ambassador stated that the plans thus far considered had only been put forward as a subject of discussion, something to work out and to see exactly what would be feasible. The plan was merely a proposal.

* Mr Eden's memorandum.

General Deane stated that there were various phases of the Far Eastern operations which must be thoroughly studied. American railway, naval, military, air and other experts were needed and should meet with their Soviet counterparts. This should be done as soon as possible so as to be ready for the agreement referred to above. The Marshal stated that that would have to be done.

The Ambassador stated that if Stalin so desired he would withdraw and destroy all the copies of the memorandum the Marshal had mentioned. The Marshal stated that it was up to the Ambassador to take whatever seourity measures he saw fit. The Ambassador replied that he was not afraid of the type of memorandum the Marshal had referred to as of talk among uninformed persons. The Marshal said that such persons usually obtained their information from sources close to the military authorities and that such persons were always eager to pass on the latest news. The Ambassador suggested that consideration be given by General Deane and the Soviet authorities to work out a "cover plan" in respect to the four-engine bombers for Soviet account. If the bombers started corning to The Soviet Union it might be advisable to work out a plan to the effect that they were going to Russia for the purpose of attacking Germany by Soviet air forces. The Marshal rallied that this could be arranged. The Ambassador continued that the same thing might be done regarding the delivery of equipment. He explained that one of the greatest considerations in the United States, a really burning question, was whether Russia was going to join us in the war against Japan. Many people were guessing - right and wrong. The Marshal stated that after the three months' preparation noted above, he would indicate who was doing the right guessing.

The Ambassador stated that he knew that the President and his Chiefs of Staff would be very grateful and extremely interested in what Marshal Stalin had said and would immediately start working on the questions raised. Stalin stated that what had been said at Tehran were not empty words. The Ambassador seed that the President never had a moment's doubt that they were, but that now that were getting down to detailed plans it was much more interesting. He knew that the President would be grateful for the progress made on actual plans. The Marshal replied: "We must break the Japanese spine." The Ambassador concluded he conversation by stating that it was his understanding that General Deane would continue conversations with General Antonov and that the American naval representatives would enter into talks with the Soviet naval authorities on the question. Marshal Stalin said this should be done.

EP: nn

Copy to General Deane.

Website note: The above texts are optically scanned, and may contain characteristic OCR errors. We will correct these if notified. [notify].

The above material has been researched by David Irving for the third volume of his Churchill biography, "Churchill's War", vol. iii: "The Sundered Dream."

Extracts from Anthony Eden's pencilled diary | Stalin's conversations with Allied leaders Oct 11-15, 1944

© Focal Point 2004 F Irving write to David Irving