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Churchill's Triumph : A Novel of Betrayal
For eight days, beginning on Saturday, February 3, 1945, the most powerful men in the world - Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin - met at the Black Sea Resort of Yalta, where in the most momentous conference of the century, they preceded to divide up Europe. This novel, told from Churchill's point of view, takes you behind the scenes and brings you into the minds and hearts of the big three leaders: the dominating and seemingly all-powerful Joseph Stalin, with the largest army, and the mission of expanding the Soviet Empire; an ailing and fragile Roosevelt, willing to make whatever compromises he felt he had to in order to bring Stalin and Russia into the final campaign against Japan; and Churchill, the least powerful of the three, but the most far-sighted, who could not count on Roosevelt as his ally, and could not tame the avaricious Russian bear, determined to gobble up the nations around and beyond it. Like a fly on the wall of history, the reader becomes a hidden witness to these monumental negotiations, witnessing negotiations that would betray the heroic struggle of millions who died and fought in the Great War.
Meanwhile, a Polish count who has taken on the persona of a deceased soldier appears in Churchill's suite to reveal one of the great unknown secrets of that time: the Soviet's systematic execution of thousands of Polish officers at Katyn, the mass murder that the Russians eventually blamed on the Germans. His courageous defiance of the German army's occupation of his village, and his village's fate at the hands of the victorious Russian army, serve as a profoundly moving subplot to the larger story. Churchill's Triumph allows the reader to eavesdrop on the world's most powerful men, as they lie, cheat, and deceive each other as they struggle to reach agreement and secure their places in history.
Dobbs (Never Surrender) extends his historical fiction series starring Winston Churchill with this title focusing on the Yalta Conference. As WWII winds down, Churchill, Joseph Stalin and FDR meet in Yalta to sort out postwar Europe. All in less than vigorous health (FDR is at death's door), the big three hammer out differences in their competing agendas, a process Dobbs fills with rich historical detail and dramatic flair as Uncle Joe Stalin extracts large concessions, particularly land reparations--such as in Russian-occupied Poland--from a deferential FDR and a scrappy Churchill. Meanwhile, Roosevelt lobbies for the formation of the United Nations and simultaneously keeps secret the atomic bomb. Minor characters, notably a Polish plumber trying to flee Yalta, point to the brutality behind what Churchill later dubbed the Iron Curtain. Perhaps the weakest negotiator of the trio, Churchill nevertheless maintains, with able assists from Dobbs, his famous eloquence, humor and shrewdness. History buffs and readers with at least a casual interest in Churchill will get the most out of this. (Mar.)
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February 29, 2008
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Excerpt from Churchill's Triumph by Michael Dobbs
SATURDAY, 3RD OF FEBRUARY, 1945 SAKI AIRSTRIP, SOVIET CRIMEA
This must be, Churchill thought, the most Godforsaken place he'd ever seen, at the very edge of the earth. As they flew in for the landing he could see an army of women bent over the runway, sweeping away the snow with twig brooms. The runway itself was little more than a series of uneven concrete slabs cast upon the frozen ground, with a control tower that had been thrown together from rough-planed timber. It had a machine-gun nest on top. The insistent grayness of it all burrowed inside Churchill and froze his doubts so hard he wondered if they would ever leave him.
Sarah Oliver, his daughter, a flight officer in the WAAF, sensed his misgivings and squeezed his hand. "Still feeling poorly, Papa?"
The previous day he'd had a temperature of 103 degrees, not the best way to begin a hazardous journey, not for a man of seventy. But he shook his head. "I never wanted to come here, not to the Crimea. Nothing but lice and typhus plague and... blessed Russians. My God, I hope the whisky will last, otherwise we might end up dying in this place."
"So... why here?"
"Had no choice. Neither did poor Franklin. A man in a wheelchair has to fly six thousand miles because Stalin refuses to travel more than six hundred. The supreme gathering of the three most powerful men in the world--in a hole like this!" He stabbed his finger at the scene outside. "If we'd researched the matter for ten years with all diligence, I swear we could have found no more miserable spot. Russia in blasted February!"
The conference of the three Allied war leaders hadn't yet started and already Stalin had won the first round.
"They call you the Holy Trinity, you three," Sarah said, smiling, trying to reassure him.
"And Stalin says I'm the Holy Ghost," he replied morosely, "because I'm the fool who seems to be forever flying about." He scratched at a blob of grease on his lapel. "But I think we rather resemble the triumvirate of Ancient Rome--you remember your Shakespeare?"
"You know I prefer more modern pieces."
"After the fall of Julius Caesar, the three of them--Mark Antony, Octavius, Lepidus--gathered together to carve up the world. Just like us. Then they fell upon each other's throats."
It was clear his spirits were not to be easily raised. They'd left Malta eight hours earlier, bound for their ultimate destination of Yalta on the coast of the Black Sea, which in February could freeze as hard as Iceland. The nearest operational airfield was Saki, although from five hundred feet up it seemed an utterly reckless place to land. As the four-engined Douglas Skymaster made its approach it gave another sharp lurch through the cold air and Sarah gripped her father more urgently. She wasn't enjoying this, either. "Why couldn't we have come by ship?" she moaned.
"My sentiments entirely, but the Germans departed the Crimea only a few months ago. They left behind a wasteland drenched in blood and a harbor packed with mines. Regrettably, the bastards failed to leave behind a map for their minefields. So, we endure."
Then, at last, the tires were hitting the ground, squealing, once, twice, and the Skymaster was clawing slowly to a halt, bouncing on every rut. When finally the aircraft had stopped, Churchill was pensive, remaining in his seat for awhile, staring at the guard of honor lined up at the side of the field, lost in his misgivings.
Sarah waited for him, staring sadly at her father in the light of a winter's afternoon. The sparse hair, the sagging jowls, the eyes that were losing the battle against time. He was an extraordinary man who seemed to possess an almost supernatural capacity for revival and for restarting the motor that had driven him full tilt through a lifetime of hazard, but the gears were now worn, they kept slipping, and each time he set out, the engine was forced to race ever harder to make any headway. Sarah knew why she'd been asked to accompany him to Yalta, for much the same reason as Roosevelt's daughter, Anna, was also coming. For comfort, yes, to make sure their fathers had those little personal things around them that made them feel content, but although no one spoke about it, the daughters were also there just in case. To be by their sides, just in case anything were to happen. No man can easily contemplate the thought of dying far away from his home, on his own.
Yet there was still plenty of life left in the old dog. Suddenly he launched himself from his seat. "Let's get on with it," he muttered grimly.
The American president was waiting for him. Franklin Roosevelt had arrived on a plane some twenty minutes earlier and had been lowered in his wheelchair on a specially constructed lift. Now he was seated in the back of a Lend-Lease jeep, wrapped heavily against the cold as the two leaders set out to inspect the guard of honor together. Roosevelt looked frail, disinterested, and the prime minister tried to give the occasion some semblance of dignity by walking beside him. Afterwards they were taken to a tent heated by wood-burning stoves where their Soviet hosts had laid on a feast--suckling pig, caviar, smoked sturgeon, black bread, with endless quantities of vodka and the sweet local champagne. All the while, outside, the guard of honor continued to stand at its post, bayonets like icicles.
When, at last, Churchill climbed into the back of his car alongside Sarah, his mood had not improved. She left him to his thoughts. Of all the Churchill children, she resembled him most closely--the same intense blue eyes, gold-red hair, passionate temper, so stubborn she was known as "Mule." It often made words superfluous between them and their silences were never painful. She tucked a rug round his legs and held his hand.
It would take them almost five hours to reach their destination. Yalta was barely more than eighty miles away but the road was slushy, rough, heavily potholed, with signs of hasty repair. At every two hundred paces they saw members of the Soviet militia, many of them women, saluting with their rifles as the convoy passed. And still it snowed.
"I am in agony about Franklin," he began at last.
"I think we all are," Sarah replied. "He looks so desperately ill."
"He is also desperately misguided. Infirmity and imprudence. The combination could be calamitous. You know, I asked him if we might share the journey to Yalta. He declined. Said he needed to rest. He won't talk to me, Mule. Has pushed me aside."
"He couldn't do that. You're mistaken."
"I am most certain of it."
"Because he thinks he knows better. Trusts Stalin. Believes we may all live together in harmony once the slaughter is over. He's one of those most dangerous of men, Mule, an idealist. Thinks he can win over Stalin simply by the force of his own personality."
"Only if I've got a bloody grenade in my pocket."
"But you've said such nice things about Marshal Stalin."
"And I shall continue to do so. It's called diplomacy, and it is filled with terminological inexactitudes."
He sighed, as though already exhausted. "In a few hours' time I shall embrace the Marshal warmly and he, just as warmly, will embrace me. Doesn't mean we like each other. Nearly thirty years ago I sent an army to Russia with the intention of crushing the Bolshevik infant in its cradle. I failed. Stalin hasn't forgotten that. Neither have I."