The "Big Three" at the Tehran Conference
Left to right: Joseph Stalin, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill.
|Date||28 November 1943to 1 December 1943|
|Location||Soviet embassy, Tehran, Iran|
|Also known as||Tehran Summit|
|Participants||Winston Churchill (Prime Minister: United Kingdom),
Franklin D. Roosevelt (President: United States)
Joseph Stalin (Premier: Soviet Union)
|Outcome||Consensus to open a second front against Nazi Germany by 1 May 1944|
The Tehran Conference (codenamed Eureka) was a strategy meeting of Joseph Stalin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill from 28 November to 1 December 1943. It was held in the Soviet Union's embassy in Tehran, Iran. It was the first of the World War II conferences 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 the three leaders arrived with differing objectives, the main outcome of the Tehran Conference was the Western Allies' commitment to open a second front against Nazi Germany. The conference also addressed the Allies' relations with Turkey and Iran, operations in Yugoslavia and against Japan, and the envisaged post-war settlement. A separate protocol signed at the conference pledged the Big Three to recognize Iran's independence.
As soon as the German-Soviet war broke out in June 1941, 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 in December 1941, 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 Red Army on the Eastern Front, 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 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 difficult. Churchill was an avid traveller 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 Basra–finally agreeing to meet in Tehran in November 1943.
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 (11,000 km) 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 U.S. 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.
Stalin pressed for a revision of Poland’s eastern border with the Soviet Union to match the line set by British Foreign Secretary Lord Curzon in 1920. In order to compensate Poland for the resulting loss of territory, the three leaders agreed to move the German-Polish border to the Oder and Neisse rivers. This decision was not formally ratified, however, until the Potsdam Conference of 1945.
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, as Overlord in 1943 was physically impossible due to a lack of shipping, which left the Mediterranean and Italy as viable goals for 1943. It was agreed Overlord would occur 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 argued for the invasion of Italy in 1943, then Overlord in 1944, on the basis that Overlord was physically impossible in 1943 due to lack of shipping and it would be unthinkable to do anything major until it could be launched.
Churchill proposed to Stalin a moving westwards of Poland, which Stalin accepted, which gave the Poles industrialized German land to the west and gave up marshlands to the east, while providing a territorial buffer to the Soviet Union against invasion.
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 and kissed the scabbard. (He then handed it to Marshal Kliment Voroshilov, who mishandled it, causing the sword to fall to the ground.)
— Joseph Stalin, during the dinner at the Tehran Conference.
Stalin proposed executing 50,000–100,000 German officers so that Germany could not plan another war. Roosevelt, believing Stalin was not serious, joked that "maybe 49,000 would be enough". Churchill, however, 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.
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 his country was fully armed. By August 1944 Turkey broke off relations with Germany. In February 1945, Turkey declared war on Germany and Japan, which may have been 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 on 22 June 1944 (Operation Bagration).
Alleged assassination plot
According to Soviet reports, German agents planned to kill the Big Three leaders at the Tehran Conference, but called off the assassination while it was still in the planning stage. Western intelligence dismissed the existence of this plot. Otto Skorzeny, the alleged leader of the operation, claimed that Hitler had dismissed the idea as unworkable before planning had even begun. Nevertheless, the topic continues to be a theme of certain Russian historians.
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