Eisenhower: At War, 1943–1945
The decision to let the Russians take Berlin and Prague created a more acute military-political crisis in the British-American alliance than anything else in World War II. It came at the very end of the war when the Supreme Commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, had finally begun to live up to his lofty title. The decision was essentially his, and he has been blamed the most for it.
David Eisenhower, the author of the latest and fullest study of his grandfather’s career as Supreme Commander, Eisenhower: At War,1 raises the question: “Did Eisenhower oppose Berlin?” In the end, there is no doubt that he did, and the question might well be rephrased: “When and why did Eisenhower oppose Berlin?”
The subject again gives David Eisenhower the opportunity to stress the Russian aspect of Eisenhower’s problems and policies, because Berlin was a potential prize for both the Russians and the Americans. The American generals waited anxiously to see how soon the Russians would strike out for Berlin after they had reached the Oder River, only about thirty-five miles from the German capital at the end of January 1945. The long Russian delay of over two months enabled the Americans to reach the Elbe River about sixty miles away but still without any assurance that they could get there first if the Russians suddenly decided to go all out for the city.
At one point, David Eisenhower leans toward the view that Eisenhower for months past “had long since ruled out Berlin, but even the firmest plans rested on one major contingency: that the Russians act in timely fashion to take Berlin.” In effect, the Russians could have taken Berlin without stirring up any Western ambition to beat them to it if they had not stopped for so long at the Oder to resupply their forces for their stupendously massive assault. David Eisenhower also traces Eisenhower’s decision on Berlin to his “broad-front strategy decision in August 1944, which had all but ensured that Russian forces would be at the German frontier when the Allies invaded.” Some historians go all the way back to the British holdup of the Normandy invasion in 1943 as the root reason for the Western predicament over Berlin.
David Eisenhower’s view that Berlin had long been ruled out does not seem to do justice to the abundant evidence of Eisenhower’s wavering on the issue. He had, after all, committed himself, at least in principle, in August 1944 to a “rapid thrust to Berlin,” and in October 1944 to a “direct thrust upon Berlin.” By the first week of April 1945, he was taking the position that the cost of taking Berlin was uppermost in his mind—it was worth doing but only “at little cost” or “cheaply.” According to General Omar N. Bradley, his leading field, commander, “the capture of Berlin was still under active consideration by us as late as April 15, the day before the Russians jumped off”2 Eisenhower did not make the…
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