WWII: Why did the USSR agree to divide Berlin?

Pretty much as the title - what motivated Stalin into agreeing that the German capital, deep in the Soviet occupation zone, should be split between the USSR and the three western Allies?

I know the zones of occupation were hashed out at Yalta and later made more concrete at Potsdam, but I can’t find much discussion specifically around the city of Berlin. Especially at Potsdam, after the Soviet Union had taken horrendous casualties in storming the city, giving half of it away seems…out of character, for lack of a better term. If Stalin had told Truman and Attlee to screw off, all of Berlin is the USSR’s by right of conquest, would there have been much the western Allies could have done short of Operation Unthinkable?

Stalin knew the capabilities of the other Allies, especially the US. He’d seen the power of the atomic bomb. The last thing he wanted was possible conflict over a destroyed city, it just wasn’t worth it. Also The Red Army was war-weary and he knew the US and UK would certainly have enforced a division. But others with deeper knowledge will be along soon with fuller replies.

The Western Allies could have pushed forward through Germany faster. They could have even /tried/ to take Berlin, but they certainly would have occupied more of Germany. They didn’t do that, because Stalin had agreed not to re-unite Germany as a SU client, using the German capital in Berlin to do so.

Up until V-J Day, old Uncle Joe had been profiting and benefiting from playing ball with the Allies and not overtly cheating. Going along with partitioning Berlin was consistent with his strategy so far. They still had to coordinate the Soviet attack on Japan, and no way would Russians miss the opportunity to take revenge. In 1945, and especially prior to V-J Day, the alliance was still very much in effect, and the whole thrust of the alliance had been to coordinate the Allies’ strategies all together (Tehran/Yalta/Potsdam). It would not have been advantageous for Uncle Joe to break faith at that point. When Berlin was first partitioned, the Cold War had not begun yet. That had to wait until the following year.

Judging by how events played out, Stalin thought he would be able to blockade the city later and force the other powers to decamp.

The Western allies had already taken substantial parts of the territory marked out for the Soviet occupation zone of Germany, containing valuable economic resources, and were well into Austria and western Czechoslovakia. The Allied zones of Berlin, by contrast, required rebuilding and supplying - let them be a drain on Allied rather than Soviet resources.

I have no idea if there are reliable sources now available for what was actually going on in detailed Soviet planning and thinking for the longer term, if there was any. But clearly, what Stalin wanted was a much wider sphere of protective influence in eastern and central Europe and enough time and peace to restore the Soviet Union’s economy from the destruction visited on it. From that point of view, it would have made sense to accept the bargain with the West - a presence in Berlin, the UNO and signing Churchill’s “percentage agreement”, in return for a reasonably viable Soviet Zone that might serve (in communist eyes) as a model for the country that Marx and Engels always thought would be the effective base for the communist revolution.

It took a while after the establishment of the occupation regime before it became really clear both sides were interpreting the implications of the deal in incompatible ways, and the question of unified control of the currency finally broke it and the two German states emerged.

The division of Berlin was made official at Yalta which was in Feb. 1945. At that time:

  1. The A-bomb was still in development with no guarantee that it would work.

  2. The Western Allies had only the tiniest foothold in western Germany.

The main leverage the West had against Stalin was equipment and continued pressure on Germany. If the West stopped sending gear to Stalin and let up on Germany, the USSR could still beat Germany but it would have taken more time and a lot more casualties. Stalin knew that things were at the stretching point for reviving the USSR after the war as it was.

The Yalta deal also included having the USSR declare war on Japan 2 to 3 months after Germany was defeated (later firmed up at Potsdam). Part of this deal included concessions on Japanese territory and concessions in China. He also hoped for some time to participate in the occupation of Japan. Stalin might have been concerned that if he was too firm on German partition, that the Allies might not concede things regarding Japan. A chunk of Berlin was nothing compared to freeing up access for Vladivostok.

Thanks for the replies fellas, Stalin’s motives I’ve always found tricky to work out beyond Churchill’s summation of ‘strange and sinister’.

It’s worth noting that the joint occupation of Berlin wasn’t unique. Vienna was also split between the four Allied powers, and was also located deep within the Soviet zone of Allied-occupied Austria.

One of Stalin’s biggest worries was that the Western Allies would sign a conditional surrender with Germany (especially if Hitler was deposed) and use Germany as a puppet against the USSR. A major goal of the agreements reached at Tehran and Yalta was for both sides to be assured that neither one was going to sign a separate peace and use defeated Germany for their own purposes. Agreeing to split up the territory of WW2 Germany into occupation zones (including splitting Austria off from Germany) was not just aimed at Germany itself, but at Germany’s use to the other side. Splitting up Berlin specifically was done since it was the capital city and doing so weakened any puppet Germany.

The non-Hitler German leadership certainly expected this to happen - there were a lot of attempts to reach ‘if we kill Hitler you’ll let us off the hook’ agreements, even when Germany was in a complete collapse. We know now that there was no real chance of that happening, but a completely rational actor in Stalin’s position couldn’t be sure of that, and the actual Stalin was paranoid.

And remember that the zones were about dividing German territory, they weren’t based on who had captured what land. If occupation zones were going to be based on captured territory, it would be very unfavorable to the USSR - German troops surrendered to the Western Allies but fought to the end against the Red Army, so Western troops could have pushed the demarcation line eastward had they been so inclined.

So related question. I read that the blockade and Berlin airlift was specifically triggered in response to the allies carrying out currency reforms. Why exactly did that upset Stalin / the USSR so much? As I understand it immediate post war occupation germany was using barter and cigarettes as currency, old currency was worthless, so a new currency desperately needed to be introduced. What action did the USSR want to happen rather than the allies introducing a new currency?

I think the objection was that the Western Powers, exasperated at the Soviets’ decision to deliberately wreck the Reichsmark and encouraging said bartering, decided to unilaterally set up their own currency for their zones - the Deutsche Mark. In retaliation the Soviets created the East German Mark.

The Soviets’ motivations were a mix of fear and suspicion of the Wests’ motives, as well as a fear of a revitalised Germany that a stable currency would encourage, and a desire for revenge against the Germans that could be dealt out by making the Germans as poor and miserable as possible.

Check out the 1949 film classic The Third Man for a great *noir *look at Vienna back then.

The division of Germany (and Austria) was not supposed to be permanent, and the Allies (West + USRR) were supposed to cooperate and coordinate with each-other. Ultimately, that didn’t work out, but during the time these divisions were made, Stalin was hoping for a future united Germany that could be turned communists, or at least would be neutral and demilitarized.

From reading about the period, I think it was during the Truman administration that the United States and Great Britain discovered that the Soviet Union was making a land grab.

The division of Berlin actually was not “agreed upon” by the Soviets, but rather suggested by them to the surprise of the Americans and British. Up until July 1st of 1944, the presumption was that Berlin would be administered by an international administration, possibly including other countries.

See The U.S. Army in the Occupation of Germany: 1944-1946, by Earl Frederick Ziemke, page 123.

The entire question concerning the various terms of surrender, the zones and such were mostly hashed out in a body called the European Advisory Commission and the the suggestions were agreed upon by the leaders at the various conferences.

There was a lot more at play than many of the simply ideas proposed here. The negotiations actually pitted the US and British against each other at times.

Same issue as with managing the euro across different polities: who has the central political control over basic economic and fiscal policies to maintain the volume and value of the currency?

Each occupation zone administration issued its own form of the occupation mark currency; the Soviet Zone inflated its issue, reducing the value of the mark throughout all the zones. I don’t know whether they deliberately intended (or whether the western allies thought they did) to risk creating the same sort of hyper-inflation that had followed WW1 (in the hope of creating pre-revolutionary conditions leading to a Germany-wide Communist takeover), but that must have been a factor behind the thinking of the German officials and politicians in the western zones who did the detailed work on preparing the new currency.

The point was that the new DMark was developed and created by the western allies, not totally in secret, and though (if memory serves) the Soviet Zone was invited to join in, the DM would be controlled by an interzonal process that would, implicitly, reunite Germany’s economy and central fiscal government, and that the Soviets would inevitably be outvoted in (there had already been suggestions, too, for a common economic government for the western or at least the US and British zones to eliminate trading barriers). If Stalin wanted a communist government anywhere in Germany, it would have to be separated and based on the Soviet Zone: otherwise the capitalist economy would inevitably dominate the whole of Germany.

Actually, both sides were war-weary. The Red Army was much, much stronger than the Western armies at that point, but the Western Allies had stronger navies and air forces. There was absolutely no way of the Allies preventing the Soviets from taking Berlin by force, but neither side wanted war then.

An Army cannot be looked at in isolation from the country it serves. While the Red Army was at the time probably the greatest land power on the planet, the USSR, which had lost tens of millions of citizens and had untold devastation visited upon in in 4 years of war was in no position to do much of anything. Western propaganda notwithstanding.

I recall reading that American ships carrying supplies for the Russians turned and came back to the United States when the Germans surrendered.