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15 October 2014
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Timeline - 1939-1945

Fact File : Potsdam Conference

17 July to 2 August 1945

Location: Potsdam, Germany
Players: US President Harry Truman, Winston Churchill, Clement Attlee (who became UK Prime Minister on 26 July), Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.
Outcome: The terms of Japan's surrender were agreed; the Council of Foreign Ministers tasked with drawing up peace treaties; Poland's frontiers discussed; Germany's disarmament and reparations confirmed; and the decision made to hold war trials.

Winston Churchill and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin talk with an American general at the Potsdam Conference
Winston Churchill and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin talk with an American general at the Potsdam Conference©
The final Allied conference of the war was codenamed Terminal. The three leaders of the Grand Alliance met, although Roosevelt, who died in April, had been replaced by Truman and Churchill returned to England midway through the conference after his defeat in the British general election. The newly-appointed Labour Prime Minister Clement Attlee saw the conference through on behalf of Britain.

The conference agreed on the terms of surrender for Japan, to be managed by a council of foreign ministers in charge of peace settlements. The Japanese government would be called on to proclaim unconditional surrender, although Stalin had had word that this would not be acceptable to the Japanese emperor. The Allies agreed that 'it was not intended to enslave Japan' but Japan would be occupied until unconditional surrender was achieved.

It was agreed that Britain, Russia, China, France and America were to be represented in the new peace treaties council and many countries would be discussed:

'The three Governments consider it desirable that the present anomalous position of Italy, Bulgaria, Finland, Hungary and Romania should be terminated by the conclusion of Peace Treaties. They trust that the other interested Allied governments will share these views.'

The conference then turned to the fate of Poland, which required the longest debate. Much ground had been covered at the Yalta Conference and it was confirmed that the Polish Provisional Government of National Unity would hold 'free and unfettered elections as soon as possible'.

The conference also agreed on Germany's future. The Allies' priority was to disarm the country: 'In order to eliminate Germany's war potential, the production of arms, ammunition and implements of war as well as all types of aircraft and sea-going ships shall be prohibited and prevented.' Reparations were also agreed, and a trial of major war criminals was planned.

The fact files in this timeline were commissioned by the BBC in June 2003 and September 2005. Find out more about the authors who wrote them.


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