The "Big Three" at the Tehran Conference
Left to right: Joseph Stalin, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill.
|Date||November 28, 1943to December 1, 1943|
|Location||Soviet Embassy, Tehran, Iran|
|Also known as||Tehran Summit|
|Participants||Winston Churchill (Prime Minister: Great Britain),
Franklin D. Roosevelt (President: United States)
Joseph Stalin (Premier: Soviet Russia)
|Outcome||Consensus to open a second front against Nazi Germany by 1 May 1944|
The Tehran Conference (codenamed Eureka) was a strategy meeting held between Joseph Stalin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill from 28 November to 1 December 1943. It was held in the Soviet Embassy in Tehran, Iran and was the first of the World War II conferences held between all of the "Big Three" Allied leaders (the Soviet Union, the United States, and the United Kingdom). It closely followed the Cairo Conference which had taken place on 22-26 November 1943, and preceded the 1945 Yalta and Potsdam Conferences. Although all three of the leaders present arrived with differing objectives, the main outcome of the Tehran Conference was the commitment to the opening of a second front against Nazi Germany by the Western Allies. The conference also addressed relations between the Allies and Turkey and Iran, operations in Yugoslavia and against Japan as well as the envisaged post-war settlement. A separate protocol signed at the conference pledged the Big Three's recognition of Iran's independence.
As soon as the German-Soviet war broke out, Churchill offered assistance to the Soviets, and an agreement to this effect was signed on 12 July 1941.Delegations had traveled between London and Moscow to arrange the implementation of this support and when the United States joined the war, the delegations met in Washington as well. A Combined Chiefs of Staff committee was created to coordinate British and American operations as well as their support to the Soviet Union. The consequences of a global war, the absence of a unified Allied strategy and the complexity of allocating resources between Europe and Asia had not yet been sorted out – and soon gave rise to mutual suspicions between the Western Allies and the Soviet Union. There was the question of opening a second front to alleviate the German pressure on the Soviet Army, the question of mutual assistance – where both Britain and the Soviet Union were looking towards the United States for credit and material support and there was ceaseless tension between the United States and Britain since Washington had no desire to prop-up the British Empire in the event of an Allied Victory. Also, neither the United States nor Britain were prepared to give Stalin a free hand in his dealings with Eastern Europe and lastly, there was no common policy on how to deal with Germany after Hitler. Communications regarding these matters between Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin took place by telegrams and via emissaries – but it was evident that direct negotiations were urgently needed.
Stalin obsessively wished to control everything in Moscow and was unwilling to risk journeys by air, while Roosevelt was physically disabled and found travel grueling. Churchill was an avid traveler and, as part of an ongoing series of wartime conferences, had already met with Roosevelt five times in North America and twice in Africa and had also held two prior meetings with Stalin in Moscow. In order to arrange this urgently needed meeting, Roosevelt tried to persuade Stalin to travel to Cairo. Stalin turned down this offer and also offers to meet in Baghdad or in Basra – finally agreeing to meet in Tehran in November 1943.
Proceedings of the Conference
The conference was to convene at 16:00 on 28 November 1943. Stalin arrived well before, followed by Roosevelt, brought in his wheelchair from his accommodation adjacent to the venue. Roosevelt, who had traveled 7,000 miles to attend and whose health was already deteriorating, was met by Stalin. This was the first time that they had met. Churchill, walking with his General Staff from their accommodations nearby, arrived half an hour later.
The United States and Great Britain wanted to secure the cooperation of the Soviet Union in defeating Germany. Stalin agreed, but at a price: the U.S. and Britain would accept Soviet domination of eastern Europe, support the Yugoslav Partisans, and agree to a westward shift of the border between Poland and the Soviet Union. The leaders then turned to the conditions under which the Western Allies would open a new front by invading northern France (Operation Overlord), as Stalin had pressed them to do since 1941. Up to this point Churchill had advocated the expansion of joint operations of British, American, and Commonwealth forces in the Mediterranean, with an eye to bolstering British interests in the region. Roosevelt insisted that Operation Overlord should go forward, however, and the leaders agreed it would be commenced by May 1944; Stalin agreed to support it by launching a concurrent major offensive on Germany's eastern front to divert German forces from northern France.
The Three Governments realize that the war has caused special economic difficulties for Iran, and they all agreed that they will continue to make available to the Government of Iran such economic assistance as may be possible, having regard to the heavy demands made upon them by their world-wide military operations, and to the world-wide shortage of transport, raw materials, and supplies for civilian consumption.
In addition, the Soviet Union was required to pledge support to Turkey if that country entered the war. Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin agreed that it would also be most desirable if Turkey entered on the Allies' side before the year was out.
Despite accepting the above arrangements, Stalin dominated the conference. He used the prestige of the Soviet victory at the Battle of Kursk to get his way. Roosevelt attempted to cope with Stalin's onslaught of demands, but was able to do little except appease Stalin. Churchill mostly argued for his Mediterranean plan instead of Operation Overlord, to the annoyance of diplomats and officials. These weaknesses and divisions played into Stalin's hands.
Roosevelt and Churchill accepted Stalin's demands regarding Poland's post-war boundaries, which would give the Soviets Lwów, Wilno, and Poland's eastern Kresy territory occupied by Stalin under his 1939 alliance with Nazi Germany. Churchill proposed that Poland, in return, be compensated with a corresponding slice of Germany. The Polish government-in-exile only learned of this betrayal, as they saw it, over a year later on a trip to Moscow. France, the United States and Britain finally withdrew their recognition of Poland's war-time government in June-July 1945.
Tripartite dinner meeting
— Joseph Stalin during the dinner at the Tehran Conference
Before the Tripartite Dinner Meeting of 29 November 1943 at the Conference, Churchill presented Stalin with a specially commissioned ceremonial sword (the "Sword of Stalingrad", made in Sheffield), as a gift from King George VI to the citizens of Stalingrad and the Soviet people, commemorating the Soviet victory at Stalingrad. When Stalin received the sheathed sword, he took it with both hands, kissed the scabbard, and handed it to Marshal Kliment Voroshilov, who mishandled it, causing the sword to fall to the ground.
Stalin proposed executing 50,000–100,000 German officers so that Germany could not plan another war. Churchill was outraged and denounced "the cold blooded execution of soldiers who fought for their country." He said that only war criminals should be put on trial in accordance with the Moscow Document, which he himself had written. He stormed out of the room, but was brought back in by Stalin who said he was joking. Churchill was glad Stalin had relented, but thought Stalin was testing the waters.
The declaration issued by the three leaders on conclusion of the conference on 1 December 1943, recorded the following military conclusions:
- The Yugoslav Partisans should be supported by supplies and equipment and also by commando operations.
- It would be desirable if Turkey should come into war on the side of the Allies before the end of the year.
- The leaders took note of Stalin's statement that if Turkey found herself at war with Germany, and as a result Bulgaria declared war on Turkey or attacked her, the Soviet Union would immediately be at war with Bulgaria. The Conference further took note that this could be mentioned in the forthcoming negotiations to bring Turkey into the war.
- The cross-channel invasion of France (Operation Overlord) would be launched during May 1944, in conjunction with an operation against southern France. The latter operation would be undertaken in as great a strength as availability of landing-craft permitted. The Conference further took note of Joseph Stalin's statement that the Soviet forces would launch an offensive at about the same time with the object of preventing the German forces from transferring from the Eastern to the Western Front.
- The leaders agreed that the military staffs of the Three Powers should keep in close touch with each other in regard to the impending operations in Europe. In particular it was agreed that a cover plan to mislead the enemy about these operations should be concerted between the staffs concerned.
Results of the conference
The Yugoslav Partisans were given full Allied support, and Allied support to the Yugoslav Chetniks was halted (they were believed to be cooperating with the occupying Germans rather than fighting them). The Communist Partisans under Tito took power in Yugoslavia as the Germans retreated from the Balkans.
Turkey's president conferred with Roosevelt and Churchill at the Cairo Conference in November 1943, and promised to enter the war when it was fully armed. By August 1944, with Germany nearing defeat, Turkey broke off relations. In February 1945, it declared war on Germany and Japan, a symbolic move that allowed Turkey to join the future United Nations.
The invasion of France on 6 June 1944 took place about as planned, and the supporting invasion of southern France also took place (Operation Dragoon). The Soviets launched a major offensive against the Germans 22 June 1944 (Operation Bagration).
Alleged assassination plot
According to Soviet reports German intelligence planned to kill the Big Three leaders at the Tehran Conference, but the plot was called off while still in the planning stage. The very existence of the plot was dismissed by Western intelligence, and denied by the supposed leader Otto Skorzeny. Nevertheless it provides a popular theme in Russian popular culture.
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