Anyone familiar with the history of WW2 will know that the Germans hoped for and the Russians feared the British and Americans in 1944/45 might make a separate peace with Hitler and even join together with Germany and fight the Russians.

The facile answer is that the Germans needed something to hope for when all other hope was lost and the Russians were simply paranoid.

It might also be said that neither dictatorship was equipped to understand that such a thing would be impossible to sell to an electorate even supposing a democracy's leadership wished it.

So my question isn't why might the notion of a separate peace have arisen in Moscow or Berlin, but rather, did the Americans or British give any cause at all to encourage the Germans & alarm the Russians. Were there any secret papers, or diplomatic initiatives which hinted at a separate peace?

I mean, apart from the fact the British and Americans met, planned, collaborated, shared intelligence etc separately from the Russians, which, yes, was a problem for the Soviet Union but still a long way from even coming close to concluding a separate peace with Germany and jointly turning their guns on the Russians.

So far as I am aware the British and Americans never wavered from the doctrine of "unconditional surrender" agreed in 1943 and had never the remotest intention of joining forces with Germany and driving the Russians out.

How did many Germans and some Russians get it so wrong?

Updated with sources identifying those Germans who believed in or sought a separate peace:

  • Himmler sought to bargain with Jewish lives in exchange for a separate peace [Secret Intelligence and the Holocaust: Collected Essays by Gerhard L. Weinberg, David Bankier]
  • Canaris and other German officers
  • Donitz and the rest of the Flensburg government [Hitler, Donitz, and the Baltic Sea 1944-1945 by David Grier]
  • Donitz and Jodl
  • Individual SS officers hoped to exploit tensions between the western Allies and the Soviet Union to open negotiations for a separate peace (Holocaust Museum website)
  • Walter Schellenberg, SS General [The Routledge Companion to Nazi Germany by Roderick Stackelberg]
  • Otto Ohlendorf, SS-General Felix Steiner, and SS-General Richard Hildebrandt (interrogation of Ohlendorf by British intelligence)
  • 3
    Well, it started with the Heß case, which had England scatter so much false information that neither Stalin nor Hitler could not believe a thing anymore.
    – Alexander
    May 12, 2015 at 14:49
  • 9
    From Stalin POV, Western democracies (not precisely friendly to the URSS to begin with) had left Hitler's regime (expressly anti-communist and anti-slav) power grow with appeasement policies; and when the URSS was weaker against Germany the allies had chickened out of actual land combat (acting only with bombing campaign, and side fronts like North Africa and Italy). With a staunch anti-communist as Churchill as one of the leaders. Only when the URSS began to turn the tide did Overlord happen (thus preventing Stalin from "liberating" all of Europe).
    – SJuan76
    May 12, 2015 at 17:16
  • 6
    @FelixGoldberg even the lend-lease may fit in that narrative, as the Allies would not want the SU to be defeated too quickly by Germany. The Allies could wage war by proxy against Germany by supplying the SU, let the SU and Germany bleed themselves dry, and, if Germany agreed to peace terms favorable to the Allies, stop the aid. Or even better, use the opportunity to finish both Germany and the SU. Again, I am not claiming that it was what actually happened, but one possible POV that justifies Stalin and the Soviets being worried about a separate peace even if there was nothing hinting it.
    – SJuan76
    May 13, 2015 at 20:25
  • 2
    Oh, and for the Germans the answer is quite simple... their only hope of getting out of the mess they got themselves into without being wiped out was with a separate peace. No matter how slim they thought their chances were when appealing to Churchill (and others) anticommunism, it always beat "doing nothing" and waiting for their enemies taking over Germany and having to answer for war crimes.
    – SJuan76
    May 13, 2015 at 20:51
  • 8
    @ThorstenS. As Felix states, I do not claim that the Allies did seriously consider act like that (beyond some crackpots and some pure theoretical plans like Unthinkable); we all know how WWII ended. And we know that the Allies, despite some issues, were committed to support the SU. That said, I wanted to show that if you were in Moscow, 1943, and saw that all the Allies do is some secondary work as North Africa and Italy, while the Red Army is fighting 70% of the Wermatch, the situation would be less clear and suspicions could arise (particularly in someone as used to backstabbing as Stalin).
    – SJuan76
    May 14, 2015 at 7:27

8 Answers 8


One intriguing use of the term "blowback" I've seen was from Bob Woodward's book Veil. In propaganda terms, he used it to indicate a situation where lies told to further US interests "blew back" into US intelligence gathering, causing the US to believe their own lies. When that happens you think you know the truth when you actually do not, which can lead to persistently making horrible decisions.

Once you understand the concept, you start to see examples of it all over the place. This is in fact what I believe happened here. The Nazis and the Soviets under Stalin were mortal enemies, but they had one big thing in common: they both relied extensively on propaganda to define their world view.

In the Nazi case, they believed in the inherent superiority of "the Aryan race", and felt that the English and the Americans, as mostly fellow Aryans, were natural Nazi allies, and would come around to the inevitable logic behind the Nazi world view once there was no longer really anything tangible for them to fight for. They certainly ought to be persuadable out of sending their own to die saving a bunch of Jewish-led Slavs, if only someone could sit down and explain the situation to them from the proper (Nazi) point of view. Hitler's second-in-command even attempted to do this, and the above appeared to be his exact thinking.

In the Soviet case, an inherent part of their ideology was that the Capitalist powers (and foremost among those were certainly Great Britain and the United States) were doomed in the long run to their own Communist overthrow, and were thus dead-set on the destruction of the Soviet system. Merits aside, this kind of belief in an ongoing imminent attack from the outside is always very useful for reducing internal dissension, so its very common to find in authoritarian societies. The problem is if decision makers actually believe stuff that they just made up themselves, then they are apt to make some disastrously wrong decisions outside of their propaganda bubble. In this case, for anyone taking the Stalinist view as gospel it would be very tough not to believe that the US and UK would look to screw them over at the first instant possible.

If they were looking specifically for supporting material for this view it was certainly not wanting. A couple of decades earlier, both countries had supported the anti-soviet forces in the Russian Civil War. Poland and France had refused any Soviet military help whatsoever in the runnup to WWII, which is what drove them to attempt their own separate peace. To cap it, the western allies seemed to be dragging their feet in starting a true Western front in Europe, while Soviet forces were dying in the millions. There were also anti-soviet comments aplenty from Churchill and FDR one could point to if wanting to seriously bolster this case.

So basically the miscalculation in both countries had the same source, and the same source of most of the great miscalculations of history: believing their own lies.

  • I believe "To cap it, the western allies seemed to be dragging their feet in starting a true Western front in Europe" is inaccurate. Stalin and Churchill were apparently informed by Roosevelt at Casablanca that sufficient landing craft for an invasion of France would not be available until Summer 1944. Jan 23, 2018 at 17:39
  • 3
    @PieterGeerkens - Are you saying that the quoted statement is an inaccurate representation of the Russian point of view at the time? If so, I don't see how "Roosevelt gave a really good excuse" is proof of that.
    – T.E.D.
    Jan 23, 2018 at 18:57
  • I believe it to be deliberate counter-intelligence by the Allies. Doesn't substantially affect your answer, but might be worth considering. Stalin might have bitched, but he was informed 18 months ahead of time that supplying Soviets with Lend-Lease was seen as a higher priority. Jan 23, 2018 at 19:20
  • 3
    The problem is that several "facts" about World War Two that I learned in the '70's turned out, post-1995 and even post-2015, to have been deliberate disinformation or counter-intelligence. I have taken to being very careful, sometimes downright sceptical, about claims that I cannot source post-1995. This bit about Stalin is one. Churchill, I have discovered, was quite discrete in his memoirs, and took his oaths of secrecy quite seriously. Jan 23, 2018 at 20:04
  • 2
    @PieterGeerkens - I had noticed that there were some things in his autoboio that he made bare mentions of that turned out through declassified documents to have been the tip of hugely important icebergs. There's also the tale of the HMS Glowworm's final moments, which merits a beautiful passage from Churchill in inspiring detail, almost none of which you today find in modern factual historical accounts. In fact, the ramming may not have even been intentional. Damn it. At least the tale lives on in the latest Star Wars movie...
    – T.E.D.
    Jan 23, 2018 at 20:13

I think you answered your own question.

The Western Allies indeed never wavered from the doctrine of "unconditional surrender".

However, some Germans did try for a separate peace and those attempts were sufficiently worrisome for the SU - even though they were soundly rebuffed both times:

  1. Canaris 1943:

In 1943, while in occupied France, Canaris is said to have made contact with British agents.... Canaris wanted to know the terms for peace if Germany got rid of Hitler. Churchill's reply, sent to him two weeks later, was simple: "Unconditional surrender".

  1. Himmler 1945 - did not even manage to contact a Brit or a Yank; his few contacts were Swedes and all they did was

asked Himmler to put his proposal in writing, and Himmler obliged

The logic is simple and natural:

Himmler: if I don't try, there is a certainty that I will be hanged. If I try, I might have a chance.

Stalin: Himmler is trying to make peace, there must be someone who he is talking to. Additionally, "we know" that the Germans are more eager to surrender to the Americans than to us. Treachery!!!

Note that the only treaty that Stalin signed but did not violate himself was the non-aggression pact with Hitler; this attitude towards international relationship does not lead to much trust (a swindler thinks that everyone is a swindler).

See also "Stalin and the Prospects of a Separate Peace in World War II": there are strong indicators that the lull between Kharkov and Kursk in 1943 was the time when Stalin tried to make a deal with Hitler. Stalin's Wars: From World War to Cold War also claims that Stalin proposed joining the Axis and exterminating the Jews in early 1942.

Later addition:

There is also an interesting 1944-03-20 memorandum from Donovan to FDR, describing an interaction in Sweden in Fall 1943 between an "Abram Hewitt" and Dr Kersten, Himmler's personal physical therapist, and Colonel Schellenberg, SD chief, from which we learn that

  • Russians tried to make a deal in May 1943 but their proposal was not generous enough for Hitler and Himmler (but acceptable to Goebbels and Ribbentrop)
  • Himmler wants to make a deal with either Russians or (preferably) the West, and wants the US to send a rep him (the request that Donovan ignored without even consulting the President)
  • 2
    @Bregalad They were bombed to drive Japan into unconditional surrender without risking too many GI's lives, that's why.
    – Alexander
    May 12, 2015 at 14:36
  • 9
    and the only reason Stalin didn't violate the Molotov-von Ribbentropp pact was because the Germans beat him to it... He had every intention of attacking Germany. In fact one stated reason for the timing of the German attack was to stave off an imminent Soviet attack on Germany, that German intelligence agencies had detected Soviet troop movements that were in accordance with a pre-attack buildup.
    – jwenting
    May 14, 2015 at 16:14
  • 4
    I strongly feel this "did not violate himself" part needs a [citation needed] mark on it. May 18, 2015 at 21:35

My father served on the Eastern Front from 1943-45, as a non-commissioned officer for one of the Axis minor allies. He had at least heard rumors of a plan to surrender to the Western Allies, who would then unite with Germany to drive the Red Army out of Europe.

It is a fact that the Western Allies were not going to go for such a plan, but it is indicative of the mood in central Europe that the idea circulated. The Germans east of the Elbe knew what was coming:

Defeat was similarly inconceivable to men returning from the East, who chilled their compatriots' spines with phrases full of warning innuendo: "If you had seen what we saw, you'd know we mustn't lose the war." -- Grunberger, The 12-Year Reich: A Social History of Nazi Germany 1933-1945 (1971), pp. 41-42.

In addition, the tales of the First World War were well known. On the Eastern Front, both sides had been remorseless against unfriendly civilians.

All through 1944, the Germans saw the newsreels of the Eastern Front. They knew the geography and could see the Russians advancing further and further west. As defeat became certain and faith in Hitler broke down, some degree of hysteria set in and people began grasping at straws. Any rumor, no matter how wild and implausible, that offered an alternative to inundation, mass reprisals and destruction was seized upon.


In 1941, future President Harry Truman reportedly advocated a "bait and bleed" strategy that, "If we see that Germany is winning we ought to help Russia, and if Russia is winning we ought to help Germany, and that way let them kill as many as possible."

General George Patton suggested re-arming 26 German divisions and working with them to kick back the Soviet armies toward the Soviet border.

These views were not "official" U.S. policy, but in fact were held by officials that were high-ranking enough to lead people to believe that it could become U.S. policy.


I am sorry, but as a German I must dismiss your precondition that "the Germans" hoped for a separate peace. To the best of my knowledge the Germans were in general not aware of that idea because it sounds ridiculous.

Hitler had the ideological view of Lebensraum in the East, the submission of the Slavs and the enemy image of Bolshevism. There were several attempts by Stalin himself (1941), Japan (1942) and Italy (since 1942) to have a peace agreement with the SU. Hitler never wavered in his decision to continue the attack for purely ideological reasons (Visions of Victory: The Hopes of Eight World War II Leaders - Gerhard L. Weinberg).

Hitler on the other hand offered peace several times to England. Churchill not only declined, he insisted on his partners that they would not budge to any attempts of Hitler to settle an armistice. His hatred of Hitler was so great that after the attack of the Soviet Union, he famously stated: "If Hitler invaded Hell, I would at least make a favourable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons". And Churchill did not like communism at all.

The Germans were aware of this and they knew as long as Churchill was Premier, a separate peace was never an option. That was the situation. And for your information, the direct involvement of the US would not have been necessary. After 1941 the Britons gained the upper hand on the sea, after 1943 the Soviets gained the upper hand on land.

After the defeat was foreseeable, Germans were stunned and aghast. They had lost the first World War (there was also the idea that Germany could negotiate a Siegfrieden, a positive outcome of the war with the Western Allies. Have a guess what really happened and how likely a "separate peace" was in this light) and suffered under the reparations. Now they have risen again, were getting more and more powerful and then they lose everything. The heavy bombardment of cities (Hamburg and Dresden) with the severe civilian casualties gave the Germans the impression that destruction of Germany was imminent (see Morgenthau plan). The overwhelming thought of the Germans in this period was "What will happen to us ?", not clutching straws with a hope of a "separate peace".

Himmler tried to save his own neck by trying to get an alliance against the Soviets, nothing more.

ADDITION: I think we have the case that people tries to judge events from an Allied view and assign importance to things which are from a German viewpoint not important at all. The same applies for Germans thinking "X happened, so the Britons/Americans must have planned this" while in fact the Americans/Britons had completely other ideas.

The England negotiations were serious attempts of the Nazi Regime. All knew that after France's defeat and a mollified SU there was only one power left (The US was already raising eyebrows, but was still very inactive) which could threaten Nazi Germany. The naval blockade was a serious threat (very bad memories in WW I; Western and Middle Europe have scarce natural resources) and the impending war with the SU had another very good reason besides ideological grounds: With the vast natural resources of the SU a blockade against Nazi Germany would have been useless. So intense attempts were made (The Heß case itself was controversial in Germany; Hitler threw convincingly a fit and a (forbidden) joke was "Brown budgie flewn away. Please return to Reich chancellor's office."). But this happened all before the invasion of the SU and the huge advantage that a peace with GB offered meant that the Germans really believed that further negotiations were fruitless.

The question if peace with Churchill was possible definitely ended after Canaris asked 1943 what the conditions were if the Germans get rid of Hitler (which was really a new bargain). Churchill's reply "Unconditional surrender"...well, what do you answer ?

If you take a deep look at all the others mentioned (Jodl, Dönitz and the SS officers) you will notice how late those alleged hopes of "separate peace" occur. From a German perspective you go for peace if you still have bargaining power which Germany did not have anymore after mid-1944. The Battle of the Bulge was pure desperation. So, those offers were in fact begging for mercy when you know it's over, but the officer's code of behavior forbids to show weakness.

And what should one think of the House of Brandenburg miracle from a German perspective ? Sorry, but I and likely other Germans see it as unimportant, it is whistling in the dark when you already know it is over. On beginning of April when the story takes place the situation was completely hopeless: The Allied force crossed the Rhine and moved fast to the East, the Soviets had encircled Berlin and outnumbered German forces heavily, the cities were rubble and resistance completely broken. Think: Would a man seriously considering a wonder shoot himself in the mouth ?

  • 6
    You have forgotten you own history - Hitler's basis for believing in the miracle of a separate peace was largely inspired by the occurrence of a similar miracle in January 1762, when the Tsarina Elizabeth died to save Frederick the Great's Prussia during the Seven Years War. May 12, 2015 at 22:30
  • 5
    @PieterGeerkens Please cite reputable sources that Hitler believed in such a miracle concerning the Western Allies. And Hitler himself is still not "the Germans". I think it hard for an average German to imagine: "Hey, after Coventry and Ourador and the other millions you killed, we decided now the Soviets are the bigger problem. We know that you are pretty roughed up because we did it to you ourselves, but hey, what about some more war ?" May 12, 2015 at 23:01
  • 4
    FWIW [tm] Guderian (autobiographical WWII account: "Panzer Leader") makes it clear that ideas of a separate settlement were common enough among various people at high level. I'd consider him a more reliable than most source, he was close to Hitler functionally but opposed him openly as required and was not a supporter of Hitler's actions for the period most relevant here and never a Hitler sycophant. May 14, 2015 at 0:55
  • 4
    @ThorstenS. I may have time to dig out some material in due course. Rushing for now. | Guderian was pretty much a loyalist to Germany - he served Hitler with integrity and his whole might (as far as can be told from his believable accounts). This included telling Hitler why he thought he was wrong when needed, once standing toe to toe (literally ) with him on and off for hours answering his points while Hitler screamed and ranted in his face. Not many would have done that, fewer did, survival rate would have been low. G has head of general staff by H's invitation after being fired some ... May 14, 2015 at 7:49
  • 4
    ... years before (as you no doubt know) and/so: Guderian was not a seeker for a separate peace, he reported what he saw. He would never have seen it as his role to take on political activity. He saw his role as entirely military and his duty was to serve his duly appointed master. (Direct report to Hitler was a condition he stipulated in accepting the job). He did not believe that separate-peace efforts would succeed. He saw Hitler mismanaging things (and told him so) but did not go behind his back and attempt to subvert him. The ultimate 'fly on the wall' :-) May 14, 2015 at 7:49

Stalin was working with premises that seem odd to us

As others have said, in the Soviet view, the US/UK and Nazi Germany were not that different. They were enemies of Communism, and it seemed natural to Stalin that they would ally against the USSR.

Also, while Stalin's and Hitler's forms of dictatorship don't seem very different to us, to both Stalin and Hitler, they were opposites.

Stalin's preferred strategy up to the Nazi invasion of the USSR was for the western powers and the Axis to wear each other down as much as possible. The USSR would chose its moment to enter the war, and dominate Europe afterwards. This strategy conformed to Marxist-Leninist ideas about the inevitable course of history; Stalin's lack of immediate response to the invasion may have been partly due to shock that the impossible had happened.

US/UK fears of a separate peace

The Soviet pre-invasion strategy wasn't exactly secret, because it was so obvious. After the invasion, the US and UK fully expected the USSR to collapse, just as the Nazi leadership did. It wasn't until late 1941 that it became clear a collapse wasn't going to happen, and even then, some people expected it in 1942. It wasn't until after Stalingrad that it was clear that Germany couldn't defeat the USSR with the means it had.

Even then, there were fears that Stalin would make a peace that restored his 1941 borders. If he did that, he could revert to his pre-war strategy, allowing the US/UK and Germany to inflict losses on each other, and then stepping in at the right moment. There had been several sets of contacts, offering Germany progressively worse terms, but Hitler was never interested - he saw the USSR as his fundamental enemy.

Stalin's fears of a separate peace

It always seemed logical to him that the US/UK would combine with Germany against the USSR, and that they would be fools not to do it soon.

Hitler's hopes for a separate peace

The drowning man clings to straws... He was never interested in peace with the USSR, but hoped for the US/UK to join him against Stalin. Never going to happen. They'd made up their minds that Germany would have to be remade, to avoid all this happening again in a few decades.

The Japanese kept trying to get Hitler and Stalin to make peace

Addendum: The Japanese were at no point keen on going to war with the USSR. They'd tried that in 1932-39 and weren't interested in trying again, hence their neutrality pact. They wanted Germany and the USSR to be at peace, so that they could access German industrial production via the Trans-Siberian Railroad. To this end, they kept offering to mediate between the sides, having diplomatic relations with both of them.

Now, this was never going to get anywhere, because Hitler was absolutely set on destroying the USSR. The fact that the Japanese kept trying illustrates what a lose and uncoordinated alliance the Axis was - Germany and Japan weren't honest with each other about their war aims - and how little they understood Hitler. But the fact that they kept trying would have leaked, and created uncertainty for the Western Allies about Stalin's intentions.

Source: Germany and the Second World War, volume VI/I, The Global War, pp100-109 and 161-184.


I mean, apart from the fact the British and Americans met, planned, collaborated, shared intelligence etc separately from the Russians, which, yes, was a problem for the Soviet Union

Stalin in his letter to Roosevelt on 7th April 1945 cited yet another reason to doubt the loyalty of USA:

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 Osnabrück, Mannheim and Kassel. You will admit that this behaviour on the part of the Germans is more than strange and unaccountable.

Omitting diplomatical politesses, it's a direct accusation of betrayal on the reason of not fighting against common enemy.

  • 4
    Well, actually what Stalin is saying here is that the enemy is choosing not to fight against his allies, while fighting him. He concludes that this must indicate collusion, but there is, of course, a simpler explanation: the Germans knew they'd be treated better by then UK/S then by the USSR. Occam strikes again. Jun 24, 2017 at 21:10
  • 5
    @FelixGoldberg - The Germans also knew what they had done in the East, and how it compared with what they had done in the West... Jun 25, 2017 at 3:47
  • 1
    @Matt Sorry, I didn't get your point. Can you explain, please? Jun 25, 2017 at 7:57
  • 1
    @FelixGoldberg The point is UK/S advanced slower than the SU. Do you know the meaning of the word betrayal? It's something like saying "Listen, friend, keep punching that guy, while I'll be chatting, so I won't be hurt like you". It's ridiculous that I have to explain such things.
    – Matt
    Jun 25, 2017 at 8:20
  • 3
    @Matt I don't see why you should be taking that tone with the only person who has so far upvoted your answer. But never mind that - your latest reading of the letter seems to me plain wrong. Stalin cannot be accusing the allies of moving too slowly. He is cross that they are capturing major cities easily while his forces are fighting for "an obscure station". This means that they are going too fast for him. If it feels strange (wasn't he the one constantly badgering about a Second Front?) - maybe you should be asking him to explain. Jun 25, 2017 at 8:49

One has to keep in mind that the alliance between the UK, the US, and the USSR was always a very uneasy one. Two forms of government diametrically opposed to each other, forced together by circumstance. They shared nothing in common, other than a desire to defeat Germany.

The basic premise that the US and UK might make a separate peace with Germany was predicated on that uneasy alliance, and divergent forms of government. The very concept of communism, before it became apparent that the communist governments had their own form of corruption, was anathema to the capitalist western nations.

This never became reality, with nuclear weapons forestalling actual combat between the Soviets and the western nations through the concept of MAD: mutually assured destruction.

So, to return to the original question - why were Germans and Russians fixated on a separate peace? Because, due to the divided interests of the Soviets and the UK/US, it was a possibility, one that might have worked to the advantage of the Germans.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.