World War II

CROSSROAD BERLIN

By the first days of April 1945, the “Thousand Year Reich” had just one more month to live. American armies had breached the Rhine from the west and had taken major cities such as Frankfurt and Kassel. The British were entering northern Germany. The Soviets, marching inexorably from the east, would soon attack Berlin and become the first Allied nation to occupy Germany’s capital. German resistance was collapsing, and the country was in the throes of defeat.

Frank L. Howley, 42 and then a colonel, was slated to be the director of military government for the American occupation forces in Berlin. Howley felt confident he could work successfully with the ally he and the other Americans knew the least about—the Soviets. “We still had no contact with the Russians” through April 1945, Howley recalled in his 1950 memoir, Berlin Command. As his detachment prepared to leave its temporary base in France and move east, “I optimistically raised my glass and expressed complete confidence that we were going to be firm and fast friends with our allies. It never occurred to me that it could be otherwise.”

One year later, his optimism was gone. The Western Allies’ relations with the Soviets had turned sour. Howley represented the United States on the Kommandatura, the governing body that ran occupied Berlin. In his memoir he wrote, “I find in my diary for May 1946 the following comment” after a “long, unpleasant meeting: ‘If this type of conference is to continue, we should recognize the failure of the Kommandatura and find some other method of handling Berlin.’ Unfortunately, that type of conference did continue. We were going downhill fast and couldn’t put on the brakes.”

The “unpleasantness” in that meeting stemmed from disagreements over the proposed Berlin city elections. Those elections, to be the first in Berlin since Nazi Germany’s defeat, caused one of the first

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