How Josef Stalin sent Winston Churchill a birthday card to say sorry for WWII jibe about the quality of Britain’s tanks
- Wartime relationship between Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin was strained
- In 1941 the Soviet leader criticised quality of British equipment sent to Russia
- Realising his error Stalin looks to apologise by sending a very out-of-character birthday card
Their alliance was vital in stopping Hitler.
But the tetchy wartime relationship between Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin was frequently stretched to its limits.
In November 1941, when the Soviet leader had the cheek to criticise the quality of tanks and guns sent from Britain to help Russian forces, the Prime Minister had reached the limit of his patience.
Fortunately Stalin realised he had gone too far and took advantage of the fact Churchill’s 67th birthday was imminent to send a gushing ‘card’ as a conciliatory measure.
In November 1941, when Soviet leader Josef Stalin had the cheek to criticise the quality of tanks and guns sent from Britain to help Russian forces – Prime Minister Winston Churchill had reached the limit of his patience
The coded telegram read: ‘To the Prime Minister Winston Churchill, I warmly congratulate you on your birthday. From the bottom of my heart I wish you strength and health which are so necessary for the victory over the enemy of mankind, Hitlerism. Accept my best wishes, Stalin.’
The greeting, which could have been the most pivotal birthday message in history, was most likely suggested by Stalin’s ambassador to Britain Ivan Maisky, historian David Reynolds explained.
‘Stalin is not known for sending birthday wishes. Certainly not to a capitalist imperialist who was renowned for threatening to strangle Bolshevism in its cradle,’ he told the Chalke Valley History Festival, which is sponsored by the Daily Mail.
Fortunately Stalin realised he had gone too far and took advantage of the fact Churchill’s 67th birthday was imminent to send a gushing ‘card’ as a conciliatory measure
‘My supposition is that Maisky the ambassador told Stalin it was Churchill’s birthday and maybe encouraged this kind of message.
‘Maisky was very savvy about this sort of thing. At any rate, it’s an extremely clever ploy – Stalin is certainly not going to admit he went over the top early on, but it’s clearly shifting the mood in a way that’s very important in the closing.’
The birthday wishes seemed to do the trick and the relationship was salvaged. Churchill replied to the message thanking Stalin and explaining that the greeting gave him ‘lively pleasure’.
The revelation was made by historian David Reynolds at the Chalke Valley History Festival, which is sponsored by the Daily Mail
The Prime Minister then reciprocated for Stalin’s birthday the following month and the exchange of greetings became a tradition that continued even after the end of the Second World War.
‘I think the last birthday message in the 1940s is sent by Churchill in the autumn of 1946 after his “Iron Curtain” speech,’ said Professor Reynolds, a fellow of Christ’s College, Cambridge, and co-author of The Kremlin Letters.
Politicians currently embroiled in complicated negotiations with Brussels over Brexit could learn from the calculated diplomacy of the correspondence between the uneasy wartime allies, he added.
‘Brussels is saying nothing can be changed, the deal is on the table.
‘What you’ve got to calculate in each case is how much of it is real and how much is bluff, and that’s what those guys were having to do at the time.
‘I think both Stalin and Churchill really worked at diplomacy. ‘They put in time, they thought about it. They read their brief, they read their evidence. You can’t do serious diplomacy just by trying to wing it.’