Interview with Hugh Lunghi, 1/7/96
Interview with Hugh Lunghi, 1/7/96
INT: ... You obviously were aware of that at the time, and was it discussed among your people?
HL: Yes, it was discussed among some of our people - yes, certainly, certainly. Our chiefs of staff had been there, and of course so had our Foreign Office people. They had been there, and they talked about this, and one got gleanings of this. I wasn't actually at that plenary session, but at other plenary sessions I was in the background, in case I was wanted by the chiefs of staff.So one got an idea of the general atmosphere. There was argument going on, yes, very strong argument going on, particularly over Poland, and over reparations which Stalin was claiming from Germany - $20 billion was the amount he claimed to begin with, and Roosevelt and his advisers thought that was a bit much, and of course Churchill, for his part, thought that would be absurd because it would bleed Germany white, as had happened after the Versailles Treaty, and the burden of setting Germany up would fall on us, we thought at that time, and indeed feeding Germany. Stalin talking about the Ruhr, which he came on to in more detail at the Potsdam Conference, of course; and so there was argument about that as well. Oh, there were tremendous arguments. But, as I say, again there were the two levels, where you got... at the ceremonial the dinners and so on, there was friendship and light, and they were drinking toasts to each other and calling each other great, and how much they had done during the war. There was all this - a tremendous lot of mutual flattery, tremendous lot going on. But then, of course, in the background you got this sort of atmosphere.
INT: Well, Stalin was obviously in a very strong position at Yalta because his forces were in occupation of much of Eastern Europe. Can you give an idea of how he appeared then, and also - you had met him many times - what sort of a person he was?
HL: Stalin was in the very strongest position at Yalta, stronger than... than anybody, I suppose, because we were still engaged in the war against Japan, or at least the Americans were and so were we. The war against Germany was really coming to an end. Stalin was really ebullient at Yalta. He had aged since I last saw him, which was only a few months before. He was already going grey. I mean, his hair was iron grey, I suppose, when I first saw him in Moscow in 1943, and at Teheran - he was then 64. Now, he was - what? 65-66. He was not the youngest: of course, Roosevelt was the youngest of them; Churchill was the oldest, as he said on several occasions, when he claimed the privilege of signing. Stalin as a person - well, when I first met him, I really got a shock, because I had seen his portraits in Red Square as sort of icons, where he was really statuesque almost in his... when you saw his portraits, full-length portraits; a tremendous figure. But when I first saw him, I was shocked because he was so small; he was no taller than me, in fact rather shorter than me - he must have been about five foot five inches - but he was pretty stolidly built. He was over five foot; very quiet; he hardly raised his voice in discussions with us. He did against his subordinates; he didn't shout at them exactly, but sotto voce he would... you could tell he was furious with them. But with us he was really sweetness and light all the time. When you shook his hand, he was...
INT: Tell me a bit more about Stalin's appearance - his face particularly.
HL: Stalin, when he looked at you, he didn't look at you, because he always looked to the side; he held his head on one side, like that, and always looked to the side; he never looked you straight in the eyes which to me ... I mean, I'd read about him, obviously... rather betrayed his sort of suspicious, locked-in nature. He had a withered left arm, and he held this in his right hand, with his palms upright, cupped like this. This was a typical stand of his. But then he'd shake you by the hand very formally; very soft hand, he had. And then... when I looked at his face - and this was particularly noticeable in the evenings at banquets, when he came with his talcum-powdered face after his shave - that it was very pockmarked. Actually I noticed that the very first time I met him, because of course on the portraits you didn't see this. Bushy eyebrows; hardly ever smoked a pipe, smoked cigarettes; was very quiet, but when he spoke... again, when I first met him, I got rather a shock because of his very marked Georgian accent. He spoke in short sentences. He was obviously always master of his brief: I never saw him refer to notes. He must have done at some time, but I never saw him refer to notes. Very rarely did he consult his subordinates. Occasionally he would get a note or a bit of advice from Molotov, who was sitting next to him, or from Maisky who was interpreting at Yalta. Maisky had been the Soviet ambassador in Britain. But he was always very self-assured; hardly ever laughed - a rather dry, sort of repressed laugh most of the time, whenever he did, whenever people cracked a joke. He'd very rarely crack a joke, and certainly never against himself, which Churchill did. So, on the whole he appeared to me the first time, and even subsequently, as rather a kindly old uncle, really; they called him Uncle Joe, and he looked like an uncle or a grandfather to me - "dedushka" in Russian, or "dyadya", "uncle". I could imagine the Russians... in fact, Russian children sometimes called him Dyadya Stalin. I remember them... not in the streets, but when we met them, talking about Dyadya Stalin; it was a sort of an affectionate name, and I rather felt that he was a kindly old uncle. But then, of course, when you saw him in action at the conferences, his eyes would go sort of slit-eyed, and he would become... he could become quite sort of vicious in his remarks, in his remarks to Churchill, accusing the British of not wanting to fight, being afraid of fighting, you see - this was all over the second front. And then, when he sneered about foreigners - the Latin Americans, the Argentinians had to be punished, he said, after the war, for allegedly helping the Germans, not coming into the war, which they didn't towards... the Brazilians as well he wasn't very keen on. The Swiss he said were "swine". (Laughs) The Swedes he didn't like at all; the Swedes were always snubbed at diplomatic parties in Moscow - so much so that the Swedish ambassador left Moscow after a while. And obviously, all Russians took their cue... Russians officials, I mean, took their cue from Stalin; they had heard this kind of attitude towards foreigners. There was a xenophobia, there really was on his part, and Russian officials, as I say, took their lead from Stalin and behaved in the same way towards foreigners. In any case, all foreigners... as far as Stalin was concerned, all foreigners who lived in Russia were potential enemies; certainly potential spies. That's why we were circumscribed so much in Moscow, and why, as we thought, he was so cruel to our people, not letting us evacuate our wounded who had come off the convoys - this was earlier on in the war - not letting us set up a hospital for them, and so on.
INT: He sounds thoroughly suspicious and xenophobic, paranoid, all these things.
HL: Xenophobic... Paranoid, of course - yes, of course, in his obsession with security. And one learned later, of course, he only visited the Russian front once, although at these conferences he was always saying, "I'm very busy and I have to visit the front." Of course he was very busy conducting the war, but he did this all from Moscow; but because of his paranoia, we are told now that he never visited the front except once, and then in a train, in an armoured train, with a security train in front of him and a security train before him. So obviously the paranoia was there. Obviously, we couldn't probe his mind at that time; we only saw these outward symbols of his paranoia, which I've already talked about.
INT: Right, well, it gives a fair indication of his character. Let's move on to VE Day, not the same day as VE in the rest of Europe, but give us an idea of the celebrations that took place in Moscow on VE Day.
HL: Do you want me to talk about leading up to it and the fact...
INT: Let's go into VE Day itself. It was the 9th of May, as far as the Soviet Union was concerned. What sort of celebrations took place, if you were caught up in them; whether there was a brief moment of joy before the Cold War settled in the not too distant future.
HL: It settled in before that, actually. Yes, OK. VE Day, as far as we were concerned in Moscow, we had celebrated on the 7th and 8th of May. But Stalin didn't want to proclaim VE Day until he, the real victor of the war, as he saw himself, he said that the war was over, and that was on the morning of the 9th of May, a couple of days after we had started our celebrations, when the German army had already surrendered to Eisenhower. It was a sort of bright and chilly, cloudy morning, bits of sunshine, and we decided straight away - well, more or less straight away, round about 11 o'clock, I suppose - to walk into Red Square to see what was going on. And of course, we were in our uniforms. And before we got to Red Square, there was singing and dancing, and people came running towards us, shaking us by the hand. When we got into Red Square, again slapping on the back; we were thrown into the air. And when we looked across to the Embassy, the American Embassy, which was then just across - you could just see it from the Red Square, between the Kremlin and what was then the Lenin Historical Museum - you could see the American Embassy, and we could see American soldiers being tossed in the air. So there was a tremendous air of jollification, and there was colour about it, not only with their red flags but there were even Union Jacks and American flags being waved, which was rather nice to see - a few. But the women had their sort of head scarves and coloured dresses, and the sunshine was picking out the colours then. So it was a marvellous occasion, and we were clearly being treated as allies and friends, and that was very pleasant. And then we were told that... in the evening, we walked through Red Square, down over the bridge, along Sofyiskaya Embankment, to our Embassy, which was opposite the Kremlin, of course, and on the way the Russians said to us, "Well, you'll be in Red Square in the evening: there'll be a tremendous bonfire..." ... not bonfire, not bonfire... tremendous...