Elsey, George

Kane, Jim


Lunghi, Hugh

Roberts, Frank


Interview with Hugh Lunghi, 1/7/96

CAM. ROLL #10260

INTERVIEWER: Thank you very much, Hugh, for coming in this morning and giving us this interview. You were posted to Moscow in June of 1943. Can you give us an idea of how people reacted to you, how you were received?

HUGH LUNGHI: When I went out there, of course, I was full of enthusiasm, as was the British public, the British press, for helping our gallant ally, the Soviet Union, which had begun to have victories over Germany. And I found that with ordinary people this was reciprocated: they thought that we were there to help them; they believed it, and they were always very hospitable, the Russians, as they always are. But very soon, that atmosphere of being received as a friend quickly dissipated when we started to meet officials, Communist Party officials particularly, but also our opposite numbers in the military. They were very weary. So one lived a life on two levels, as it were. And even ordinary Soviet people had to be very careful, we learnt, that they weren't suspected of really being too friendly to the enemy, because by officials we were regarded, as best, as enemies; at worst, as neutrals, whom they hated. I mean, Stalin, for example, I remember later on in the conferences called the Swiss "swine", for example; the Swedes were no better; the French were "rotten to the core", and so on. So we were lucky if we were regarded almost as enemies. On the other hand, on official occasions, of course, we were given a marvellous time, and there was this sort of superficial attitude of great friendship and bonhomie and fighting to win the war. But then, of course, we had all kinds of nasty things done to us - for example, the bugging of our premises. I found 38 bugs in the military mission premises where we lived, in Malaya Khoritonskaya in Moscow. I pulled those out myself... or I started pulling one or two out, because we suspected that they had always been there, and in a spare moment I started pulling them out, and then we got the Americans to come and buzz back, and we pulled out 38 bugs altogether. That was one thing. But also the media could be very spiteful, very nasty towards us. This was all because the second front had not yet opened at that time, when I was first out there, and there were little digs at us. There was a newspaper which we... our press department, belonging to the Embassy, under the Embassy, produced a newspaper called the "Britanskyi Soyusnik", which means "The British Ally", and some of the writers, in very satirical articles, would start referring to it as the "Britanskye Soyusnichki", using the diminutive, so we were often called, even by Russians who were friendly, and half-jokingly, as "soyusnichki", "little allies" - we were doing nothing, you see. They took no notice of the fact that we were fighting a war in Italy, and there was the aerial front, of course, the bombing. They ignored that - I mean, the media ignored that deliberately, so the Russians didn't really know what was going on on our side, so they believed the propaganda that they were fighting the war alone and that we were just sitting back. So it wasn't a very happy situation. But still, we were their allies, and sometimes we were treated very well.

INT: When you got to the first conference where you participated, Teheran, in November of 1943, what was the mood then? Because by that time there was still no second front.

HL: There was still no second front, and Stalin at that time... at Teheran, his main objective was to get a definite date for the opening of the second front. But the mood - you can't really compare it with the situation in Moscow, where we were living among... among the Russians, the Russian people, and as I said, we were living on these two levels and officials; but because it was a conference, because it was an official do, everything was really quite pleasant; on the surface, everything was fine and friendly. I mean, our opposite numbers were a bit guarded, but the interpreters on the Soviet side, you could see were beginning to thaw. Pavlov was the main interpreter for Stalin, and he was very friendly; beginning to be more friendly than he had been before. In general, the atmosphere, particularly at sort of the banquets and the drinks parties and so on, was very friendly. One can't say any more than that. It wasn't the same, of course, in the plenary sessions; and when I was interpreting, for example, for the chiefs of staff, Voroshilov was the man who was taking the Soviet part; Stalin had brought Voroshilov almost as an afterthought: he said... in the plenary session he said, "Oh, I didn't know we were going to have military discussions, but I've brought Voroshilov - perhaps he will do." So he was the one who sat with us. He wasn't hostile, but he was totally uncooperative. He was rather dim- witted, actually. When we were trying to explain the importance of having landing craft for launching invasions, whether it was in the north of France or in the south of France or in the Balkans, he couldn't grasp the fact that you had to have landing craft and this was most important. So he was awkward on this; he kept saying that, "Oh, I'll have to refer to Stalin." But afterwards he was quite friendly. And of course there were the ceremonial occasions. When Churchill presented the Stalingrad Sword to Stalin, I was standing just behind him, just behind Churchill, and that was a magnificent occasion. They played the Internationale first, and then our national anthem, and Churchill was given the sword, which was on a cushion, and he handed it over to Stalin, who kissed the hilt, and then Stalin handed it over to Voroshilov, Marshal Voroshilov, who promptly dropped it, or he let it slide out of the scabbard, held it to his chest; it fell down on on to his toes, fortunately not right out of the scabbard, and he had to pull it out. Well, Voroshilov, after that, came up to me and he said, "Would you take me over to Mr Churchill, please?" And I was slightly taken aback - this was when we were walking away already from the ceremony - I was a bit taken aback. I said, "Well, of course, of course, Sir." I took him over to Churchill, and he apologised, and then he wished Churchill a very happy birthday. Well, this was the 29th of November, and of course Churchill's birthday wasn't till the next day; and afterwards, as we were walking away, Churchill said to me, "I think he's a bit premature. Do you think he's angling for an invitation?" And there was a laugh about that. So there were these lighter moments. And of course, the highlight was Churchill's birthday party, and that was a great occasion.

INT: You say that Churchill was quite realistic. What about Roosevelt? You give the impression in some of the things written that Roosevelt was a great optimist. How did he see Teheran?

HL: Well, Roosevelt... May we stop?


INT: Could you give us an idea of the mood at Teheran, in particular Roosevelt's optimistic view of things?

HL: Roosevelt had come to Teheran intent on winning Stalin over. He... by lucky chance, he was able to stay with Stalin, because what happened was that before the conference, Churchill had sent a telegram to Stalin, saying wouldn't it be more convenient if Roosevelt stayed in the British Legation, which was next door... well, it was just separated by a small road, a small alleyway, from the Soviet Embassy, and for the sake of convenience, wouldn't it be a good idea if he stayed with the British Legation? He got no reply to this. However, soon after Roosevelt arrived, he moved, to begin with, into the American Legation, which was a mile or two away, and he received a message via the American Ambassador in Moscow, who was in Teheran, of course: Molotov, Stalin's foreign minister, had said to him that "we have got news of an assassination attempt by German agents in the city, on Roosevelt". Wouldn't it be better if he were to stay in the Soviet Embassy, so that we could all be together? Would he please consider this as an invitation; "we have a place ready for him" - and indeed they did: they had a wing prepared, ready for Roosevelt. And Roosevelt apparently consulted his security people, and they said, "Oh, well, yes, OK," and he was delighted to go there. So he was able to have tete-a-tete with Stalin. And we didn't know this at the time, of course, but subsequently it transpired he got the idea of ingratiating himself into Stalin's favours by making jokes about Churchill, by saying some rather nasty things about Churchill behind his back. But as I say, at the time we didn't know. What we did see was, when Churchill arrived, he had a sore throat and a cold, so he wasn't in the best of tempers; but I did notice that he looked rather grumpy at the beginning, and again I learned later on that he had invited Roosevelt to lunch with him before the two of them confronted Stalin. Roosevelt would have none of it, just as he had not wanted to discuss anything about Eastern Europe, or indeed the opening of the second front, of Overlord, at the previous conference at Cairo which had just preceded Teheran. He had his mind on the future really, what was going to happen after the war. As his ambassador said afterwards, Roosevelt was always dreaming, dreaming his dreams. Among these dreams, of course, was the dream of America and the Soviet Union policing the Far East. He held out all kinds of bait to Stalin about the Far East, and Stalin was very ready to swallow it; and Stalin made various demands of his own, to which Roosevelt acceded. Yes, and throughout the whole of the conference, both at the official plenary sessions and on the more relaxed occasions, at the dinners, Roosevelt was really quite cheerful. Churchill also, of course, could be very cheerful, as he was at his birthday party, but he was more thoughtful and more down-to-earth. One got this impression.