Full House At Yalta

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So to the palace we went. General Garlinski had everything prepared for a welcoming dinner, and we were all seated for another meal and another round of toasts. I made a very flowery toast to General Garlinski, and off we went! I seated Chuvakin beside me this time so I could try to hold him down, but in this I was only partly successful. The personal toasting pressure on Reilly and several others was heavy. I broke up the dinner as soon as I could and got everyone off to bed. It was well past midnight.

I had given everyone until lunchtime to rest up, and then we had work to do. We went over every detail of the area with particular attention to the President’s security and accommodations. Ground security was a Soviet problem, and there were plenty of secret-service guards. Our incoming personnel were to be provided with special passes to be recognized by the guards. My problem of space was solved by adding more cots to each room, three or four admirals to a room, eight to twelve colonels to a room. But the problem of toilets was still with me. The general agreed to dig some latrines in the park area near the quarters, and some special benches for washstands were set up. Wash pans and water buckets were the best we could provide. As for bathing, the guests were to be about as lucky as we had been—and we had not yet been able to have our promised hot baths. In addition to the President’s bath, there were only three bathtubs for the two main floors.

With the advance party the first to sleep in the palace, a new problem came to light. Beds, cots, and mattresses had been brought in and distributed. The general proudly pointed out the nice new ticking on all the mattresses. He said nothing about the mattresses themselves. On Tuesday morning our first guests complained bitterly and exhibited numerous bedbug bites. General Garlinski was able to get enough spray to treat the mattresses by nightfall, but I made a note to get a Navy medical staff busy on a complete delousing program as soon as our ships arrived.

Except for the bedbug problem the advance party seemed to be well satisfied with preparations. On Wednesday, Mike Reilly and several of his assistants returned to Malta to await the arrival of the President and his party. Since a mess was now established, my group and Chuvakin moved to the palace, where we could work to better advantage and where we could get that longed-for bath. General Garlinski and I kept up our daily inspection rounds, and by the end of the following week the furnishings and arrangements began to look pretty good.

It was not only furniture that had tobe collected: there were also two large kitchens and dining rooms to be equipped and manned. For this, the Soviets shipped complete sets of linen, silver, dishes, and cooking equipment from Moscow, where they had been taken from two principal hotels, the National and the Moscow. They also provided a full staff of cooks, chefs, and waiters. When it is considered that they also supplied Russian headquarters at the small palace of Yusupovski and the British at Vorontsov Villa, and provided de-luxe food and drink for ten or more days to more than four hundred high-ranking guests, it can be seen what a massive project they succeeded in.

On Thursday the twenty-fifth, Chuvakin informed me just before dinner that Ambassador Harriman and his party were arriving in Yalta in twenty minutes. The Soviets were to take them to the “Home of the Red Fleet” in Yalta, and requested that I meet them there. Fortunately, I joined them before the ambassador committed himself to Soviet plans. Without informing me, they had set up some rooms for him there and insisted that the party stay until they must depart to meet the President in Malta. I said No. We had prepared rooms for them at the palace. And since Mr. Harriman had arrived in order to preview arrangements, he could do that best at the palace. I knew that as the Soviets’ guests, Mr. Harriman and his group would be prisoners to their arrangements. At the palace he would be free to do as he pleased. It was agreed that Mr. Harriman would accompany me to the palace after the welcoming banquet.

General Ivanov and his officers were most gracious hosts. The many courses and the endless toasts took time, and I thanked my stars that this time the ambassador and his staff bore the main load. It was after 11 P.M. when we reached the palace, but Mr. Harriman wished to look around. I showed them their rooms, the President’s suite, and the ground floor. After pointing out their conveniences and arranging for a grand tour the next morning, we turned in. Mr. Harriman seemed pleased with what he had seen so far.

Just before Mr. Harriman left to meet the President in Malta, we received a copy of a dispatch sent to Churchill by a British liaison officer who had landed at the Saki airport and driven over the mountains to the British villa being prepared south of Yalta. He deplored the wet, slippery, muddy conditions and the limited facilities at the airport, and described the mountain road as impassable and dangerous. He recommended that the whole idea of a conference at Yalta be abandoned! The President wanted our comment. We replied we were fully aware of the physical limitations, but that we had already accomplished numerous landings and transits and that conditions were improving daily. Preparations were too advanced to quit now. Churchill said, “We go.”