- Historic Sites
Full House At Yalta
Vodka at breakfast was only one of the minor problems when Russians entertained Americans
June 1972 | Volume 23, Issue 4
It was 5 P.M. on Sunday, the fourth of February, 1945. After seven months of dispatches and a month of frantic preparation by the Soviets, the Big Three conference at Yalta on the Black Sea was about to commence. The senior representatives of the United States, Great Britain, and the U.S.S.R. had been invited to witness the opening and were assembled along the two long walls of the great ballroom of the Livadia Palace, the former summer playground of Czar Nicholas II . Once ornate, the great room was now quite bare except for huge drapes over the windows and a large doughnut-shaped table in the center. With other Americans, Major General R’fcssel Deane and I stood waiting. We were the two senior members of the U.S. Military Mission to the U.S.S.R. and had been in Moscow for the past sixteen months.
The low hum of petty conversation gave way suddenly to silence. Without fanfare, Marshal Stalin appeared alone under the great entry arch at the end of the hall. For a moment he appeared to be looking over the gathering. Then he walked down the center toward his advisory group. He was dressed in a very plain woolen military uniform. Short and sturdy, he moved with steady firm steps, a picture conforming to his reputation as a cold, steely, ruthlessly determined individual. In spite of his claim to ill health in the preceding seven months, he looked like a most healthy and formidable soldier to deal with now. Amid a burst of loud applause, he strode on.
I felt a nudge and heard General Deane whisper, “Come on, Olie, we ought to welcome him.” In Moscow Deane had participated in many war discussions with Stalin and his staff; it seemed proper that he should greet the Marshal here. We stepped out on an intercepting course. At once, two Soviet secret-service men started from the opposite wall. Stalin stopped. We stopped in front of him. The glaring guards stopped nearby. We saluted the Marshal, and Russel expressed the welcome of the U.S. delegation in his best Russian. With that, the Marshal’s eyes softened somewhat, and with a little smile he thanked us and shook hands. We quickly stepped aside to rejoin our astonished friends. The guards withdrew, and Stalin joined his staff at the table.
Now all eyes turned to see Prime Minister Churchill standing in the archway, posturing with his inevitable cigar and absorbing the setting. He was a picture of a strong and positive statesman, as grim and determined as John Bull himself and as solid as the Rock of Gibraltar. As applause rippled along the rows of spectators, he grinned, waved his cigar, and strode confidently toward his group at the table.
Once more all eyes turned toward the entrance. President Roosevelt had arrived in his wheelchair. The heavy boat cloak he wore over his shoulders helped to cover his legs, but his arms were free to manipulate his distinctive long cigarette holder and to wave at the spectators. Though he sat upright, he looked very fragile, and it was obvious that he was not in good health. The long voyage by ship to Malta and the flight on to Yalta had undoubtedly also fatigued him considerably. In spite of this, he smiled and waved to the applauding spectators, exhibiting some of his magnetic personality. He was undeniably pleased with himself, and rightly so, for regardless of his own poor health and his heavy worldwide war commitments, it was his, and only his, persistence and determination that had finally brought about this conference—a conference to settle the final and postwar policies of World War 11, and one that would affect the affairs of the entire world.
With the arrival of President Roosevelt, the conferees took seats, and the First Plenary Session began. The supernumeraries quietly withdrew.
When Mr. Averell Harriman became the United States ambassador to the U.S.S.R. in October, 1943, he brought with him a military staff to form a military mission with Army, Navy, Air, and lend-lease sections. We all worked harmoniously together. When Yalta was agreed upon, knowing that I had attended similar large conferences at Quebec and Cairo, Mr. Harriman directed me to take a staff to Yalta as soon as possible to assist the Soviet staff in preparing facilities for this conference. To my astonishment and concern, I soon became responsible for the full administration of the facilities for the American delegation, including housing, messing, communications, security, and transportation.
I was not a conferee, so I shall not comment on the substance or results of the meetings. What I want to tell about is how Yalta was chosen and my curious experiences in helping the Soviets transform three Livadia Palace buildings into relatively firstclass hotel accommodations for a conference of world significance—in less than a month.
As far back as July, 1944, Roosevelt had begun a long interchange of dispatches with Churchill and Stalin, urging that they all get together to discuss the many questions and plans that had developed since their last meeting in Cairo in December of 1943. From July to November, Roosevelt had suggested various places to meet, from Scotland through the Mediterranean to Jerusalem. Stalin repeatedly agreed in principle with the desirability of such a meeting but insisted that his doctors would not allow him to take a long trip or to experience a major change of climate. And besides, he said, the Russian armies were advancing so rapidly that he could not absent himself from his motherland. In October, 1944. Stalin suggested a meeting toward the end of November at a Soviet port on the Black Sea.
Both the British and the Americans objected to the Black Sea area at first, but eventually they agreed when it became clear that Stalin would not leave the U.S.S.R. Batum, Sevastopol, and Yalta were all discussed as possibilities, and finally, for reasons of climate and accessibility, Yalta was chosen.
Yalta was a famous summer resort, with mild winters because of its location to the leeward of the coastal mountains of the Crimea. We had to assume that some of the resort hotels might be available. The large airport at Saki was within four hours’ drive. Yalta had a small harbor that might be useful, and port facilities at Sevastopol were within fairly easy reach.
On December 23, 1944, Mr. Roosevelt agreed to meet at Yalta in late January or early February, and so informed Mr. Churchill. The prime minister readily agreed and suggested that the President meet him at Malta en route. Both decided to take very limited staff help; Roosevelt said he would have about thirty-five, about the same as at the Cairo conference. On December 28, Stalin concurred on Yalta, and Churchill sent Roosevelt a final message saying, “No more let us falter. From Malta to Yalta. Let nobody alter.”
Roosevelt informed the others that he would proceed by ship to Malta, and thence by air to Saki airport in the Crimea on the first or second of February. He would dispatch communications and logistic support in advance—a communications passenger ship, a cargo ship, and four mine-sweeper escorts. They would berth at Sevastopol.
During the first two weeks of January we in Moscow could get little useful information from the Soviets. I had several frustrating meetings with the Soviet naval commissar, Admiral Kuznetzov, at which I picked up some navigation and port information for our ships. But we could learn nothing of the Russian housing plans. This made us nervous, for each incoming dispatch from Washington indicated an increase in the number of staff members who planned to attend: from thirty-five to seventy, then to eighty, and by January 8 to over one hundred. It seemed that everyone in the Pentagon wanted to see Russia. We finally were told by the Soviets that there would be two buildings available, the Livadia Palace with twenty-one rooms and the “Court” building with forty-one rooms. It did not sound at all adequate, and when the U.S. list approached two hundred, Mr. Harriman and General Deane sent urgent dispatches asking Washington to reduce the numbers. A communications group of about forty was the only unit deleted, however; the deluge was never stopped. By the middle of January, we knew we would have to find beds for at least two hundred Americans. Meanwhile, we learned nothing more about conditions in Yalta from the Russians.
Mr. Harriman requested permission from Mr. Molotov for himself and four officers to go to Yalta at once. Molotov asked the ambassador to hold off until more preparations were completed, but said that the four officers could depart immediately. Since I had been present at Quebec and Cairo, I had a pretty fair idea of the facilities and arrangements required, so I was appointed to take charge of the group.
I took with me Major General Ted Hill, USAAF , who headed the Air Section of our staff and who went primarily to arrange for the use of three Soviet airfields in the Poltava area for restaging our bombers from England and Italy; Captain Ronny Alien, USN , my secretary and a most capable interpreter; and Lieutenant Joe Chase, USN , my communications officer, who was also an interpreter. Hill and I could not rely on our limited Russian to negotiate proceedings.
Now we had clearance to go, but no means. Day after day we asked for air transport; each day the Soviet office reported bad weather that prevented flying. Our concern grew every day, with each incoming dispatch proving that Washington had no conception of the problem and that it was paying little regard to our pleas to reduce the numbers planning to attend.
Finally, on January 15, and with the ambassador’s approval, I informed the Soviet office that if no flight was permitted that day, I wanted passage on the midnight train going south. It was a three-day, 65O-mile trip, but it seemed the only way to get to Yalta. We were jammed into a couple of compartments with two Soviet naval liaison officers and several Foreign Office officials headed by a Mr. Chuvakin. We prepared our own food on a little Sterno stove, and we also took care of our own bedbugs, using the containers of DDT we had been provided with. Many miles of the track had been systematically uprooted by the retreating Germans and painstakingly pieced back together by the Russians, making for a slow, decidedly bumpy ride. At every station there was a crowd of people, most of them clothed in burlap rags, struggling to get on the train. We didn’t dare get off even momentarily for fear of never getting back on.
After three full days of such travel, we looked forward to ending our trip at Semfirople about 3 P.M. on Thursday, January 18. We pulled in at midnight. We were met by Lieutenant General Ivanov, local head of the Soviet secret service, Lieutenant General Karanov, commander of the Crimean airports, and two girl interpreters, one a gorgeous blonde named Gania who had been brought down from Poltava, where she had worked with Americans before.
We were taken to a pleasant Army cottage, where a full hot dinner awaited us. The two generals were fine hosts. Vodka and brandy toasts were exchanged throughout the dinner, a soldier accordion player entertained in the background, and, following a Russian custom, we all danced with the two interpreters and the waitresses. Somewhere about 3 A.M. we got to bed, tired but feeling no pain.
We were up at seven on Friday morning, had a good breakfast, and climbed into automobiles for the four-hour trip over the mountains to Yalta. I would have preferred Gania to Captain Alien as interpreter, but General Ivanov carefully tucked her in beside him. We left General Hill at Semfirople with the Soviet air general, as it was his job to check the arrangements at Saki airport for the big passenger planes scheduled to arrive.
The ride to Yalta was lovely. There was much snow in the mountains, but the roads were clear. Once beyond the mountains, we entered the rolling hills of grape-growing country. It reminded us of places in Italy and France. We noticed how much more balmy and springlike the air was, even though it was only mid-January. We approached Yalta along the coast of the Black Sea on a road high in the hills. Snuggled on the slopes of a valley, with a nice little harbor of its own, the town made a very pleasant scene. There were many comfortable-looking rest homes, and it was not until we entered the town that we realized how thorough a job of general destruction the Germans had done before departing.
We passed through the village, depressed by the devastation we saw, and were taken to a small tavern on the outskirts. Here we were to stay until quarters were available at the Livadia Palace. We had pleasant, spacious rooms, but when I opened the door to the toilet I stood back aghast. The bowl was incrediblyfoul, and the overhead flushing system was obviously out of order. I slammed the door shut and asked the servant, “Where to now?” He shrugged and pointed to the back garden. I went for Chuvakin and showed him the problem; then I headed for the garden!
General Ivanov came by shortly after lunch to take us for our first look around the palace. That, too, was a shock and an eye opener. Livadia Palace was built in 1911 as a summer palace for Czar Nicholas n. The whole interior was beautifully elaborate and ornate, with frescoes and carved doors and panels. There were three buildings: the palace itself for the czar and his family and two others for his suite. The park stretched down to the Black Sea, seven hundred feet below, and contained fifteen kilometers of allées lined with cypress, cedar, yew, and bay trees. There were numerous greenhouses, stables, and other buildings constituting the village of Livadia. There were many bedrooms, and it was said the czar slept in a different one every night for fear ol being assassinated. The second floor was used by the czarina and her four daughters. In our assignments later, General George Marshall occupied the imperial bedroom, and Admiral Ernest King slept in the czarina’s boudoir. The private outside staircase was said to have been sometimes used by Rasputin.
After the Communists overthrew the Kerensky regime, they used the palace as a tuberculosis sanitarium and a rest home for worthy workers. Then when the Germans invaded, they set up their headquarters in it; and when they retreated in the spring of 1944, they had to evacuate in a hurry—but not before they had removed everything of value and battered the buildings badly. Fortunately, they did not bomb or totally destroy them. Since then, the Soviets had not repaired or used the buildings, as far as we could learn.
The palace itself was camouflaged in brown and pink. It was not impressive architecturally—too completely Russian. Inside, its prior splendor had to be visualized. Until the decision was made in early January to hold the conference here, all three main buildings had been a shambles of broken windows, smashed walls and floors, and damaged plumbing and heating, with not a stick of furniture on hand. It was easy to see why Mr. Molotov had asked Mr. Harriman to delay his arrival.
Now the buildings were swarming with workmen of every trade. Already they had repaired and glazed the windows, patched and plastered the walls and ceilings, replanked the floors, reconstituted the heating and plumbing facilities, and painted the entire interior of the first two floors of the palace and the main staff building. Already truckloads of furnishings were being collected from various public and private buildings in the Crimean area.
We were met at the entrance by Major General Garlinski, who had been assigned as general supervisor of reconstruction and administration of the Soviet staff. He was a fine officer and a gentleman. We soon became good friends and willing partners in the job. He frankly admitted that he had no idea of our detailed requirements, and was most happy to have our advice and help—an unusual attitude for a Russian at that time. He and his staff were housed in a nearby cottage where we later enjoyed several pleasant dinners.
We entered the palace at one end, a large arched entry banked on either side by large marble benches decorated with figures of lion heads. It was said that the architect had been at odds with the czar during construction, and to avenge himself he had made the lion heads caricatures of the czar himself. The caricature became quite clear when one placed a military cap on a lion’s head.
The entrance gave into a tremendous and towering foyer with great windows. A huge fireplace was set into the far wall, with entry doors on either side. On the right, a great arched entryway led to a grand ballroom or banquet hall large enough to accommodate five hundred to six hundred people.
Already this most important area was beginning to take shape. Its living quarters were just beyond the fireplace and were to be exclusively for President Roosevelt. They included a lovely large office, a beautiful bedchamber, a small private dining room, a toilet and washroom, and a bathroom. These were fairly well repaired, subject only to minor suggestions on our later day-to-day inspection tours. The great ballroom was to be the meeting place for the Big Three, and its renovation was also well under way.
It took us all afternoon to survey the entire area, after which we held a conference in General Garlinski’s office. Two points were obvious. First, even with maximum crowding I could not visualize enough space for the size of the party anticipated. Second, the washroom spaces and facilities were woefully inadequate. I pointed out these limitations to the two generals and urged them to complete the third floors of the two main buildings. I also obtained some floor-plan sketches from General Garlinski, together with a promise that next morning we would reevaluate and look into a small third building, which they considered beyond repair.
On returning to our cottage in Yalta, I passed the toilet en route to my room. The door was open. I couldn’t believe it! The place had been cleaned, scrubbed, creosoted, and whitewashed, and the flushing system worked. I immediately looked up Chuvakin to congratulate and thank him, and to invite him to my room for a drink, which he declined.
The next morning, Saturday, Captain Alien, Lieutenant Chase, and I went out to the palace and spent the day. General Garlinski accompanied us. After a good checkup, he agreed that he would complete the two third floors and would try to do something with the third building, since I had pointed out that only planking for the floors and coverings for the windows were necessary. Actually, they did much more, and we were able to house the entire communications staff and their equipment, brought over later from our ship at Sevastopol.
A study of the palace floor plan had enabled me to chart a general layout of rooms the night before. In addition to the President’s suite, the first floor had room for most of the President’s top advisors—including Admiral Leahy, Mr. Harry Hopkins, Mr. James Byrnes, Secretary Stettinius, Mr. Alger Hiss, and Ambassador Harriman—and for Kathy (Mr. Harriman’s daughter), Mrs. Boettiger (the President’s daughter), and aides and secretaries. The second floor would take Admiral King and General Marshall in separate rooms. All other senior officers would be doubled up from two to fifteen to a room. Senior dining and conference rooms were planned. If we could get the third floor in shape, it would house the President’s stewards and security enlisted men. Details would be worked out later.
In the second building, the first and second floors would be divided to handle all the office and working spaces, supply, sténo pool, a conference area, a dining room, kitchens, and even a barbershop. Counting on the third floor being prepared, we planned to bunk all the junior officers six to twelve to a room, plus the President’s security group and the Soviet security group consisting of Mr. Chuvakin and friends. We simply had to have those third floors.
A few days later when I showed Mr. Chuvakin his room assignment, he informed me that he would occupy one of the rooms next to the President’s bedroom, for security reasons. He was so insistent on this that I was forced to give him a very frank opinion of his audacity. He was told that if he had any further objections to my assignments, I would ask my ambassador to request that Mr. Molotov withdraw him. He quickly changed his plans.
Each morning, I went with General Garlinski for a tour of inspection covering every room in the three buildings. We noted the furniture and equipment on hand, and what more was needed. The general’s secretary listed everything we suggested, and that afternoon trucks with working parties took off to collect what they could from the area. I often wondered what kind of receipts they gave the owners, and how much of the furnishings ever reached home again. By morning the trucks were back, and their contents were distributed in time for our next inspection. It was quite unbelievable.
On Sunday, January 21, I made a quick trip to Sevastopol in order to check up on docks and mooring for the six American ships expected there in three or four days. The cliffhanging road to Sevastopol must be one of the most winding in the world. In the fifty miles, there were said to be over nine hundred sharp turns, and we did not doubt it. At times you could look down on the reverse the badly battered city of Sevastopol.
After lunch with Admiral Bassisty, chief of staff of the Black Sea Fleet, we boarded a speed launch and made a tour of the harbor to have a look at the docks, tugs, and barges available to transport equipment from our ships to Yalta.
We returned to our cottage in Yalta about 6:15, cleaned up for a good dinner, and settled down to a night of decoding messages from Moscow that we had picked up in Sevastopol. We discovered that the size of the U.S. party had arrown to 260—everybody was hopping on the bandwagon. The State Department said it would expect us to provide the administrative staff for the conference, “drawn from our Moscow personnel.” There were only the four of us! An advance party of the President’s liaison and security people would fly in at any time, and no housing or messing facilities were yet ready for them. Ambassador Harriman, his daughter Kathy, and several assistants would arrive about Thursday. Perhaps the Lord would help us!
Monday, January 22, was a very busy day. We still had had no opportunity to enjoy a regular bath, and I announced to Chuvakin that this was getting to be ridiculous as well as uncomfortable and unpleasant. So arrangements were made for us to visit a Red navy officers’ rest home in Yalta for a good hot shower about six that evening. We were in the car and about to depart for our bath when Chuvakin came running out. He had just been informed by telephone that the President’s advance party had left Saki airport earlier that afternoon and was expected in five or ten minutes. We cussed loudly and freely, and returned to wait. General Garlinski was informed, and arrangements were made for the party to proceed direct to Livadia, where, he assured us, he would have bed and board ready for them. Only Mike Reilly, the White House Secret Service chief, and Colonel Lowry, the Joint Chiefs of Staff liaison chief, were to stay the night in the cottage with us. The party arrived at the house quite a bit late, of course, and Chuvakin ushered them directly to my room before I even knew they were there. Seventeen unshaven, weary-looking men! I suggested that we would like to have all except Reilly and Lowry go directly to Livadia, where drinks, food, and bedding were set up and awaiting them.
But my friend Chuvakin spoke up and said No, he had arranged for them to eat here and now! I argued with him that the palace was ready, and that this place was not capable of feeding more than twelve persons at a time.
But Chuvakin insisted all would be ready in fifteen minutes. I asked to phone the palace, but he insisted the phone was out of order. So I told everyone to relax and use my room for a drink and to freshen up as best they could. After ten minutes we were informed that food would not be ready for another half hour. So we sat while I plied Reilly and Lowry with questions about who was coming, how, and when. In forty-five minutes the setting for the first twelve persons was ready, including Chuvakin, of course. Reilly was in an easy mood, but I warned him about Chuvakin and his endless vodka toasts. Halfway through dinner Chuvakin received a phone call from General Garlinski asking where we were and why we were not at the palace. Chuvakin did not tell us this until we were having dessert, when he announced that as soon as we finished we would all go to the palace.
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.”
On the twenty-sixth we received word that our six ships were at anchor at Sevastopol. I immediately dispatched Lieutenant Chase to Sevastopol to pay my respects to the commanding officer of the U.S.S. Catoctin and to arrange to start men and supplies across the mountain road. Since the State Department expected us to have personnel to administer the physical arrangements, I requested officers and men from the Catoctin . To my great surprise and pleasure, the commander of the Sixth Fleet had transferred six Russian-speaking officers to the ship. They were delighted to move in with us. We had already established an administrative office, so I put Captain Alien in charge of it with orders to set up a transportation pool, a supply office, a small PX and package store, and a laundry. Captain Alien was a blessing on the job, and I had no more worries on the administration score.
Lieutenant Chase worked with the communications group. As soon as they had reviewed their building, they began moving equipment in and ran extra lines across the mountains to the ship. They were happy to put cots in any old corner of the building and to be a unit unto themselves. There were about two hundred tons of radio equipment, office furniture, and supplies to be transported from the ships to the palace. We arranged for fourteen truckloads of the most urgent items to transit that fifty miles of tortuous road immediately. The remainder was loaded onto three exGerman barges to be towed around to Yalta. But heavy seas ran for two days. We ended up transporting about one hundred truckloads over the road in spite of wet and slippery conditions—and we never lost a load.
Lieutenant Chase also arranged for the ship’s doctor and a working party to come to the palace equipped to debug several hundred mattresses and pillows. Every piece in the buildings was thoroughly sprayed inside and out. The charwomen were so delighted with this that before we knew it they had moved our mattresses to their quarters and brought theirs to us. As soon as we learned of this, we had the entire lot resprayed, including everything in the servants’ quarters. Save for a single complaint later, from Harry Hopkins, we seemed to have won the bedbug battle.
When Mr. Harriman left for Malta, we reappraised our situation. It was now definite that there would be at least 270 people arriving. And in addition we had to provide for the ships’ personnel being used for administration, as drivers, couriers, and photographers, and to staff the PX and a sick bay. Surprise visitors could also be anticipated. I needed more beds, so I was most anxious to sail two American mine sweepers from Sevastopol’s harbor to the smaller one at Yalta.
All previous requests to have any of our six ships moved to Yalta had been refused because of the danger from floating mines, damaged dock fronts, and underwater obstructions. I knew that the two large ships could not be accommodated but saw no reason why two mine sweepers could not be. The Yalta harbormaster agreed it could be done at our risk, but General Garlinski had to refuse for lack of authority in the area. For five days we argued. Finally I got the general and the senior Soviet naval representative together, and put it to them to clear the ships for passage at once, or I would assume responsibility and order them sailed myself. They promised an answer by 8 P.M. At dinner they assured me everything had been approved.
At eleven the next morning I had word that one of the mine sweepers had left Sevastopol. At 2:30 we saw her sweeping her way up the coast, and by four o’clock she was secured at a dock in Yalta harbor with no mishap.
With the help of the extra officers from the Catoctin , more equipment and supplies were moved in and the finished product became quite satisfactory. We now had a full instruction sheet and a pamphlet on local history printed and ready for distribution. Room and office assignments were complete. Beds for three hundred were sanitized, and there was extra space aboard the two mine sweepers. The President’s mess, a senior mess, and a large junior mess were stocked completely and made ready for business. Latrines were ready in the bushes, and wash basins and buckets were in place. The Catoclin stocked a small PX . A sick bay was ready for daily sick call, and a doctor was at hand at all times. A daily laundry service to the Caloctin was established. A car pool was complete, with trucks, cars, and drivers to maintain regular schedules to the Catoctin at Sevastopol and to the airport at Saki.
At the palace we ate regularly at the junior mess. The first thing that caught my attention was the fact that there was always vodka on the tables at breakfast . The Russians liked it that way. After a congenial conference with General Garlinski and the two restaurant chefs, we ordained that never, but never, would they serve carafes of vodka at breakfast. For lunch, wine was approved. For dinner, vodka, wine, and liqueurs were acceptable. The order was taken very seriously. Later, on the morning of the final departure of the conferees from Yalta, we found one of our senior officers in the kitchen arguing with the waiter and the chef. He was demanding vodka with his breakfast, but he didn’t get it.
On Thursday, the first of February, two days before the main arrivals, Captain Alien came to me with word that my friend Chuvakin had pushed the panic button. We hurried to General Garlinski’s office, where Chuvakin was insisting that all of us and all the very important people expected to arrive must be supplied with special Soviet passes, instead of the ones issued by our own government. I thought he had gone crazy and refused to submit to his demands. I told him that only the U.S. and British staffs would determine who could be part of their staffs, and that he, Chuvakin, had no say in the matter whatsoever. General Garlinski sat smiling and enjoyed the entire tirade. When I introduced Mr. Molotov’s name into the heated argument, Chuvakin again grudgingly conceded. When he left, General Garlinski shook my hand, took me by the elbow, and said, “Come! Let’s have a drink to that!” I suspect that not many people really like a commissar.
On Friday, February 2, General Garlinski, Captain Alien, and I inspected the entire setup and agreed it was the best we could do. Various planes bearing subordinate staff members were now arriving at Saki. And the principals were due to arrive on Saturday, the third.
President Roosevelt’s party arrived at the palace much impressed by the drive from the airport; Soviet soldiers had been stationed every few hundred yards along the entire route. Many of them were young girls.
A few military personnel, not knowing what to expect, arrived with sleeping bags and knapsacks filled with field rations. By evening, everyone was oriented and ready for the Sunday conference to begin.
At ten o’clock Sunday morning the Joint Chiefs of Staff met in preliminary conference. Mr. Stalin called on President Roosevelt at 4 P.M. And at 5 P.M. the First Plenary Session was begun.
For the next eight days there were at least four meetings a day, including special luncheon meetings for top-level groups preceding the daily plenary session in the afternoon.
Only one hitch occurred during the eight days of meetings. On the third day, about 2 P.M. , Captain Alien and a Soviet secret-service officer came to me to say that General Ivanov wanted a certain American Air Force major removed from the conference within the hour. It seems that the major was of czarist Russian descent, spoke the language fluently, and had been circulating and talking to various Russian officers. The Soviet secret-service man would not discuss what had been talked about, but said that if the major was not removed within the hour, he would be taken into custody. Our senior Air Force officer was General Laurence S. Kuter, but he was in conference and would remain there for hours. I took it upon myself to order Captain Alien to put the major in a car immediately and send him to Saki airport, where he was to board the first plane out for his own safety. The American officer did not remonstrate. But I never succeeded in convincing General Kuter that I had the authority to order one of his staff out.
The following Sunday, the eighth and last of the plenary sessions was held at noon and preparations were made for the departures on Monday. President Roosevelt desired to spend the last night on board the Catoctin at Sevastopol so as to have a shorter drive to the airport next morning. As soon as we had everyone on their way Monday, I proceeded to Saki with Ambassador Harriman and General Deane to witness the impressive departure ceremonies for the President and Mr. Churchill. Mr. Harriman and General Deane flew on to Moscow, while I returned to Livadia with Alien and Chase for two days of closing up.
The Catoctin crew cleaned out all of their equipment in a hurry, except for 240 cases of beer that I had purchased from the supply officer to be shipped to Moscow. Russian beer, at a dollar a bottle, was a heavy, malt-tasting brew. I knew the good American beer would be eagerly received by the Moscow staff.
We had a last dinner together with General Garlinski and Chuvakin in the general’s quarters, and I went all out to thank them for everything they had accomplished. I presented each of them with a Longines watch purchased from the PX . Two days later the ambassador’s plane returned for us, and we were happily on our way to Moscow again.