Operation Sunrise Crossword

The Stalin-Roosevelt Correspondence

Seventeen Moments was based on Operation Sunrise Crossword, secret negotiations conducted in March 1945 in Switzerland between between SS General Karl Wolff and Allen Dulles on 8 March 1945. On 12 March the U.S. ambassador to Moscow Averell Harriman notified Molotov of the possibility of negotiations on the German surrender in Italy. On the same day, Molotov replied that the Soviet government would not object to the negotiations provided that Soviet representatives also took part. The Western Allies did not accede to this demand, and Molotov wrote Harriman that “for two weeks, in Bern, behind the back of the Soviet Union, negotiations between representatives of the German Military Command on one side and representatives of American and British Command on the other side are conducted. The Soviet government considers this absolutely inadmissible.” This led to the following epistolary exchange between Roosevelt and Stalin, and mounting Soviet distrust of Western motives.

Received on March 25, 1945


The State Department has just been informed by Ambassador Gromyko concerning the composition of the Soviet Delegation to the San Francisco Conference. We have the highest regard for Ambassador Gromyko’s character and capabilities and know that he would ably represent the Soviet Union. Nevertheless I cannot help but be deeply disappointed that Mr Molotov apparently does not plan to attend. Recalling the friendly and fruitful cooperation at Yalta between Mr Molotov, Mr Eden and Mr Stettinius, I know that the Secretary of State has been looking forward to continuing at San Francisco in the same spirit the joint work for the eventual realization of our common goal—the establishment of an effective international organization to insure for the world a secure and peaceful future.

The Conference, without Mr Molotov’s presence, will be deprived of a very great asset. If his pressing and heavy responsibilities in the Soviet Union make it impossible for him to stay for the entire Conference, I hope very much that you will find it possible to let him come at least for the vital opening sessions. All sponsoring Powers and the majority of the other countries attending will be represented by their Ministers of Foreign Affairs. In these circumstances I am afraid that Mr Molotov’s absence will be construed all over the world as a lack of comparable interest in the great objectives of this Conference on the part of the Soviet Government.


Ambassador Harriman has communicated to me a letter which he has received from Mr Molotov regarding an investigation being made by Field Marshal Alexander into a reported possibility of obtaining the surrender of part or all of the German army in Italy. In this letter Mr Molotov demands that, because of the non-participation therein of Soviet officers, this investigation to be undertaken in Switzerland should be stopped forthwith.

The facts of this matter I am sure have, through a misunderstanding, not been correctly presented to you. The following are the facts:

Unconfirmed information was received some days ago in Switzerland that some German officers were considering the possibility of arranging for the surrender of German troops that are opposed to Field Marshal Alexander’s British-American Armies in Italy.

Upon the receipt of this information in Washington, Field Marshal Alexander was authorized to send to Switzerland an officer or officers of his staff to ascertain the accuracy of the report and if it appeared to be of sufficient promise to arrange with any competent German officers for a conference to discuss details of the surrender with Field Marshal Alexander at his headquarters in Italy. If such a meeting could be arranged Soviet representatives would, of course, be welcome.

Information concerning this investigation to be made in Switzerland was immediately communicated to the Soviet Government. Your Government was later informed that it will be agreeable for Soviet officers to be present at Field Marshal Alexander’s meetings with German officers if and when arrangements are finally made in Berne for such a meeting at Caserta to discuss details of a surrender.

Up to the present time the attempts by our representatives to arrange a meeting with German officers have met with no success, but it still appears that such a meeting is a possibility.

My Government, as you will of course understand, must give every assistance to all officers in the field in command of Allied forces who believe there is a possibility of forcing the surrender of enemy troops in their area. For me to take any other attitude or to permit any delay which must cause additional and avoidable loss of life in the American forces would be completely unreasonable. As a military man you will understand the necessity for prompt action to avoid losing an opportunity. The sending of a flag of truce to your General at Konigsberg or Danzig would be in the same category.

There can be in such a surrender of enemy forces in the field no violation of our agreed principle of unconditional surrender and no political implications whatever.

I will be pleased to have at any discussion of the details of surrender by our commander of American forces in the field the benefit of the experience and advice of any of your officers who can be present, but I cannot agree to suspend investigation of the possibility because of objection by Mr Molotov for some reason completely beyond my comprehension.

Not much is expected from the reported possibility, but for the purpose of preventing misunderstanding between our officers, I hope you will point out to the Soviet officials concerned the desirability and necessity of our taking prompt and effective action without any delay to effect the surrender of any enemy military forces that are opposed to American forces in the field.

I feel certain that you will have the same attitude and will take the same action when a similar opportunity comes on the Soviet front.


We highly value and attach great importance to the San Francisco Conference to lay the foundations of an international organisation for peace and security of the nations, but present circumstances preclude V. M. Molotov’s attendance. I and Molotov are very sorry about this, but the convening, at the instance of Deputies to the Supreme Soviet, of a session of the Supreme Soviet of the U.S.S.R. in April, at which Molotov’s attendance is imperative, makes it impossible for him to attend even the opening session of the Conference.

You are aware that Ambassador Gromyko successfully coped with his task at Dumbarton Oaks,  and we are certain that he will ably head the Soviet Delegation at San Francisco.

As to the different interpretations, you will appreciate that they cannot determine the decisions to be taken.


I have analysed the matter raised in your letter of March 25, and find that the Soviet Government could not have given any other reply after its representatives were barred from the Berne negotiations with the Germans for a German surrender and opening the front to the Anglo-American troops in Northern Italy.

Far from being against, I am all for profiting from cases of disintegration in the German armies to hasten their surrender on one or another sector and encourage them to open the front to Allied forces.

But I agree to such talks with the enemy only in cases where they do not lead to an easing of the enemy’s position, if the opportunity for the Germans to manoeuvre and to use the talks for switching troops to other sectors, above all to the Soviet front, is precluded.

And it was solely with an eye to providing this guarantee that the Soviet Government found it necessary to have representatives of its Military Command take part in such negotiations with the enemy wherever they might take place—whether in Berne or in Caserta. I cannot understand why the representatives of the Soviet Command have been excluded from the talks and in what way they could have handicapped the representatives of the Allied Command.

I must tell you for your information that the Germans have already taken advantage of the talks with the Allied Command to move three divisions from Northern Italy to the Soviet front. The task of coordinated operations involving a blow at the Germans from the West, South and East, proclaimed at the Crimea Conference, is to hold the enemy on the spot and prevent him from manoeuvring, from moving his forces to the points where he needs them most. The Soviet Command is doing this. But Field Marshal Alexander is not. This circumstance irritates the Soviet Command and engenders distrust.

“As a military man,” you write to me, “you will understand the necessity for prompt action to avoid losing an opportunity. The sending of a flag of truce to your General at Konigsberg or Danzig would be in the same category.” I am afraid the analogy does not fit the case. The German troops at Danzig and at Konigsberg are encircled. If they surrender they will do so to escape extermination, but they cannot open the front to Soviet troops because the front has shifted as far west as the Oder. The German troops in Northern Italy are in an entirely different position. They are not encircled and are not faced with extermination. If, nevertheless, the Germans in Northern Italy seek negotiations in order to surrender and to open the front to the Allied troops, then they must have some other, more far-reaching aims affecting the destiny of Germany.

I must tell you that if a similar situation had obtained on the Eastern Front, somewhere on the Oder, providing an opportunity for a German surrender and for the opening of the front to the Soviet troops, I should have immediately notified the Anglo-American Military Command and asked it to send its representatives to take part in the talks, for in a situation of this kind Allies should have nothing to conceal from each other.

March 29, 1945


In the exchange of messages we have had on possible future negotiations with the Germans for surrender of their forces in Italy, it seems to me that, although both of us are in agreement on all the basic principles, the matter now stands in an atmosphere of regrettable apprehension and mistrust.

No negotiations-for surrender have been entered into, and if there should be any negotiations they will be conducted at Caserta with your representatives present throughout. Although the attempt at Berne to arrange for the conduct of these negotiations has been fruitless, Marshal Alexander has been directed to keep you informed of his progress in this matter.

I must repeat that the meeting in Berne was for the single purpose of arranging contact with competent German military officers and not for negotiations of any kind.

There is no question of negotiating with the Germans in any way which would permit them to transfer elsewhere forces from the Italian front. Negotiations, if any are conducted, will be on the basis of unconditional surrender. With regard to the lack of Allied offensive operations in Italy, this condition has in no way resulted from any expectation of an agreement with the Germans. As a matter of fact, recent interruption of offensive operations in Italy has been due primarily to the recent transfer of Allied forces, British and Canadian divisions, from that front to France. Preparations are now made for an offensive on the Italian front about April 10, but while we hope for success, the operation will be of limited power due to the lack of forces now available to Alexander. He has seventeen dependable divisions and is opposed by twenty-four German divisions. We intend to do everything within the capacity of our available resources to prevent any withdrawal of the German forces now in Italy.

I feel that your information about the time of the movements of German troops from Italy is in error. Our best information is that three German divisions have left Italy since the first of the year, two of which have gone to the Eastern Front. The last division of the three started moving about February 25, more than two weeks before anybody heard of any possibility of a surrender. It is therefore clearly evident that the approach made of German agents in Berne occurred after the last movement of troops began and could not possibly have had any effect on the movement.

This entire episode has arisen through the initiative of a German officer reputed to be close to Himmler and there is, of course, a strong possibility that his sole purpose is to create suspicion and distrust between the Allies. There is no reason why we should permit him to succeed in that aim. I trust that the above categorical statement of the present situation and of my intentions will allay the apprehension which you express in your message of March 29.


I am in receipt of your message on the Berne talks.

You are quite right in saying, with reference to the talks between the Anglo-American and German Commands in Berne or elsewhere, that “the matter now stands in an atmosphere of regrettable apprehension and mistrust.”

You affirm that so far no negotiations have been entered into Apparently you are not fully informed. As regards my military colleagues, they, on the basis of information in their possession, are sure that negotiations did take place and that they ended in an agreement with the Germans, whereby the German Commander on the Western Front, Marshal Kesselring, is to open the front to the Anglo-American troops and let them move east, while the British and Americans have promised, in exchange, to ease the armistice terms for the Germans.

I think that my colleagues are not very far from the truth. If the contrary were the case the exclusion of representatives of the Soviet Command from the Berne talks would be inexplicable.

Nor can I account for the reticence of the British, who have left it to you to carry on a correspondence with me on this unpleasant matter, while they themselves maintain silence, although it is known that the initiative in the matter of the Berne negotiations belongs to the British.

I realise that there are certain advantages resulting to the Anglo-American troops from these separate negotiations in Berne or in some other place, seeing that the Anglo-American troops are enabled to advance into the heart of Germany almost without resistance; but why conceal this from the Russians, and why were the Russians, their Allies, not forewarned?

And so what we have at the moment is that the Germans on the Western Front have in fact ceased the war against Britain and America. At the same time they continue the war against Russia, the Ally of Britain and the U.S.A.

Clearly this situation cannot help preserve and promote trust between our countries.

I have already written in a previous message, and I think I must repeat, that I and my colleagues would never in any circumstances have taken such a hazardous step, for we realise that a momentary advantage, no matter how great, is overshadowed by the fundamental advantage of preserving and promoting trust between Allies.

April 3, 1945

Received on April 5, 1945


I have received with astonishment your message of April 3 containing an allegation that arrangements which were made between Field Marshals Alexander and Kesselring at Berne “permitted the Anglo-American troops to advance to the East and the Anglo-Americans promised in return to ease for the Germans the peace terms.”

In my previous messages to you in regard to the attempts made in Berne to arrange a conference to discuss a surrender of the German army in Italy I have told you that: (1) No negotiations were held in Berne, (2) The meeting had no political implications whatever, (3) In any surrender of the enemy army in Italy there would be no violation of our agreed principle of unconditional surrender, (4) Soviet officers would be welcomed at any meeting that might be arranged to discuss surrender.

For the advantage of our common war effort against Germany, which today gives excellent promise of an early success in a disintegration of the German armies, I must continue to assume that you have the same high confidence in my truthfulness and reliability that I have always had in yours.

I have also a full appreciation of the effect your gallant army has had in making possible a crossing of the Rhine by the forces under General Eisenhower and the effect that your forces will have hereafter on the eventual collapse of the German resistance to our combined attacks.

I have complete confidence in General Eisenhower and know that he certainly would inform me before entering into any agreement with the Germans. He is instructed to demand and will demand unconditional surrender of enemy troops that may be defeated on his front. Our advances on the Western Front are due to military action. Their speed has been attributable mainly to the terrific impact of our air power resulting in destruction of German communications, and to the fact that Eisenhower was able to cripple the bulk of the German forces on the Western Front while they were still west of the Rhine.

I am certain that there were no negotiations in Berne at any time and I feel that your information to that effect must have come from German sources which have made persistent efforts to create dissension between us in order to escape in some measure responsibility for their war crimes. If that was Wolff’s purpose in Berne, your message proves that he has had some success.

With a confidence in your belief in my personal reliability and in my determination to bring about, together with you, an unconditional surrender of the Nazis, it is astonishing that a belief seems to have reached the Soviet Government that I have entered into an agreement with the enemy without first obtaining your full agreement.

Finally I would say this, it would be one of the great tragedies of history if at the very moment of the victory, now within our grasp, such distrust, such lack of faith should prejudice the entire undertaking after the colossal losses of life, material and treasure involved.

Frankly I cannot avoid a feeling of bitter resentment toward your informers, whoever they are, for such vile misrepresentations of my actions or those of my trusted subordinates.


I have received your message of April 5.

In my message of April 3 the point was not about integrity or trustworthiness. I have never doubted your integrity or trustworthiness, just as I have never questioned the integrity or trustworthiness of Mr Churchill. My point is that in the course of our correspondence a difference of views has arisen over what an Ally may permit himself with regard to another and what he may not. We Russians believe that, in view of the present situation on the fronts, a situation in which the enemy is faced with inevitable surrender, whenever the representatives of one of the Allies meet the Germans to discuss surrender terms, the representatives of the other Ally should be enabled to take part in the meeting. That is absolutely necessary, at least when the other Ally seeks participation in the meeting. The Americans and British, however, have a different opinion—they hold that the Russian point of view is wrong. For that reason they have denied the Russians the right to be present at the meeting with the Germans in Switzerland. I have already written to you, and I see no harm in repeating that, given a similar situation, the Russians would never have denied the Americans and British the right to attend such a meeting. I still consider the Russian point of view to be the only correct one, because it precludes mutual suspicions and gives the enemy no chance to sow distrust between us.

2. It is hard to agree that the absence of German resistance on the Western Front is due solely to the fact that they have been beaten. The Germans have 147 divisions on the Eastern Front. They could safely withdraw from 15 to 20 divisions from the Eastern Front to aid their forces on the Western Front. Yet they have not done so, nor are they doing so. They are fighting desperately against the Russians for Zemlenice, an obscure station in Czechoslovakia, which they need just as much as a dead man needs a poultice, but they surrender without any resistance such important towns in the heart of Germany as Osnabruck, Mannheim and Kassel. You will admit that this behaviour on the part of the Germans is more than strange and unaccountable.

3. As regards those who supply my information, I can assure you that they are honest and unassuming people who carry out their duties conscientiously and who have no intention of affronting anybody. They have been tested in action on numerous occasions. Judge for yourself. In February General Marshall made available to the General Staff of the Soviet troops a number of important reports in which he, citing data in his possession, warned the Russians that in March the Germans were planning two serious counter-blows on the Eastern Front. one from Pomerania towards Thorn, the other from the Moravska Ostrava area towards L6 dz. It turned out, however, that the main German blow had been prepared, and delivered, not in the areas mentioned above, but in an entirely different area, namely, in the Lake Balaton area, southwest of Budapest. The Germans, as we now know, had concentrated 35 divisions in the area, 11 of them armoured. This, with its great concentration of armour, was one of the heaviest blows of the war. Marshal Tolbukhin succeeded first in warding off disaster and then in smashing the Germans, and was able to do so also because my informants had disclosed—true, with some delay —the plan for the main German blow and immediately apprised Marshal Tolbukhin. Thus I had yet another opportunity to satisfy myself as to the reliability and soundness of my sources of information.

For your guidance in this matter I enclose a letter sent by Army General Antonov, Chief of Staff of the Red Army, to Major-General Deane.

April 7, 1945


Source: Correspondence between the Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the USSR 
and the Presidents of the USA and the Prime Ministers of Great Britain 
during the Great Patriotic War of 1941 – 1945, Volume – 2
Correspondence with Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman (August 1941-December 1945). Moscow: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the USSR, 1957.

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