Key Facts & Summary:
- The occupation of Normandy in June 1944 was discussed.
- Stalin and Roosevelt rejected the British plan of offensive by the Mediterranean and the Balkans.
- The principle of disarming and partitioning Germany, sharing Europe in zones of influence and moving Poland to the west was discussed.
The Tehran Conference, which took place from November 28 to December 1, 1943, during the Second World War, was the first meeting between Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin, the three leading leaders of the Allies. Two important military decisions and a political decision were made.
Proceedings of the Conference
Churchill had proposed a meeting in London. It was Stalin who insisted on choosing Tehran while the distance to be travelled was very long for Roosevelt and Churchill. Stalin, who was flying for the first time in his life, came first. His two fellow big men arrived from Cairo, where a conference on Japan and Asia had been held.
Iran was by then occupied by Soviet and British forces. The 22-year-old Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, only had protocol power. The Iranian leaders were informed about the organization of the conference only a few days before. If Stalin and Churchill paid him a courtesy call, Reza Shah would meet Roosevelt at the USSR embassy where he had agreed to stay. The Reza Shah was not even invited to the ceremonies that took place in the embassies.
To avoid tedious journeys between embassies (and supposed to be risky according to the Soviets), Roosevelt agreed to stay at the embassy of the USSR riddled with Soviet microphones and spies.
On the political level, Stalin accepted the principle of the creation of an international organization, proposed by Roosevelt.
The “big three” also agreed on the principle of the partitioning of Germany. The annexation of Königsberg by the Soviet Union and the displacement of Poland (whose government in exile in London was neither informed, nor consulted) to the west was also agreed on.
This allowed the USSR to keep the Polish territories obtained by the German-Soviet pact. The territories acted as (partial) compensation. The future Poland would receive the eastern territories of Germany.
The new frontiers of Poland were not specified because the British wanted to avoid the protests of the Polish government of London. Roosevelt too wanted to avoid protests from Americans of Polish origin.
After the Conference, when leaks revealed what was considered to be a plot by the British and Americans against Stalin’s appetites to the detriment of the Poles, Anthony Eden (in the House of Commons on December 15, 1943) and Franklin D. Roosevelt (in front of the Congress on January 11, 1944) gave false denials.
It was envisaged, however, that the eastern boundary could be defined by a line called “Curzon Line A”: not the true Curzon line of 1919 which left Lwow to Poland (named “B” by the Soviets). The German-Soviet route of 1939 that gave this city to the USSR. As for the western border, it could follow the course of two rivers, the Oder and the Neisse (Oder-Neisse line).
It was not specified, however, whether it was the Western Neisse (which had its source in Bohemia and flowed into the Oder near Nysa) or the Eastern Neisse (which had its source in Silesia and flowed in the Oder near Gubin), which was later to be discussed.
Stalin also made his claims in Asia: South Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands, then Japanese territories. With regard to the operations in the occupied Balkans, Churchill announced to Stalin his intention to support in Yugoslavia the communist partisans led by Tito rather than the Chetniks’ legitimist group obedient to the Yugoslav government in exile in London. The former was led by Draža Mihailović.
Churchill made this decision on the basis of reports that the Partisans inflicted much more damage on the Germans than the Chetniks. Churchill did not suspect that these reports largely exaggerated the number of dissident groups and minimized Mihailović’s forces. This was due to the influence of the “Five of Cambridge”, a group of intelligence agents British SIS working in fact for the NKVD6.
At the conclusion of the conference, the three leaders communicated the following military conclusions, on December 1, 1943:
- Yugoslav Partisans will be supported by supplies and equipment as well as commandos7 operations.
- It was desirable that Turkey declares itself to be at war with the Allies before the end of the war.
- Take note that if Turkey goes to war against Germany, and if it results in a declaration of war or an attack of Bulgaria on Turkey, the USSR would immediately go to war against Bulgaria. The Conference noted that this could be mentioned in future negotiations to bring Turkey into the war.
- The “Operation Overlord” (Normandy landing) would be launched in May 1944, in synchronization with an operation against the south of France. The latter would be undertaken with the available means of disembarkation.
- The conference would take note later of Marshal Stalin’s statement that the Soviet forces would launch an offensive at the same time with the objective of preventing German forces from being transferred from the Eastern to the Western fronts.
- It was agreed that the troops of the three powers would remain in close contact for all matters concerning operations in Europe. In particular, it was agreed that a cover plan to mystify and disorient the enemy on operations would be agreed between the relevant personnel7.
Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt had also agreed at this conference to create the UN according to the principles developed at the Moscow Conference. This conference would lead to that bringing together of experts.
Stories about the Tehran Conference
Winston Churchill, in his memoirs Churchill refers to the dinner given by Stalin on November, a meal during which the Soviet leader proposed to shoot at the end of the war thousands of German officers and technicians.
According to Soviet historiography, during the second half of 1943, Otto Skorzeny’s Special Forces reportedly worked on a plan to assassinate Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin during the conference that was to be held in Tehran. It was known as the operation “Big Jump”.
However, the project was abandoned because the location was too far away. Another reason was that Berlin received a coded message from its agents in Tehran indicating that they were under surveillance and because the agents of the Soviet counter-espionage had alerted the Anglo-Americans. It seemed that this story was only a Soviet invention.
The bitter fruits of Tehran
The year started under the promise of a harvest. What did we think we had planted in this garden? The three gardeners had said, “We let’s leave from here friends in fact, in spirit and in intention”. And what was the harvest?
Tehran had to establish a second front and coordinate military operations against the common enemy in the east and west so as to end the war in Europe before the end of the year. But the end of the war is over.
Tehran had to cement indestructibly the United Nations unit. Today the cement is pulverized and discord in the allied camp is for the enemy the main source of strength. Tehran was to lay the foundations of a lasting peace. Today the spectre of a war next civil war, made by trained troops in hiding and led by men loyal to the cause of the revolutionary communist, haunts Europe, from Greece to Holland and Finland to Sicily.
Finally, Tehran had to confirm the promise made by, Cordell Hull on his return from Moscow, that “no longer need spheres of influence, of alliances, of the balance of forces “. Today all the eastern half of Europe from the West, roughly limited by a line from Stettin on the Baltic to Trieste on the Adriatic, an area which, before the war, had a population of 90 million inhabitants has been reserved by Moscow for its domination or promised to total sovietization.
The beginning of the Greek tragedy
The whirlwind of recent events had ripped the veil of Tehran and highlighted the character of the main decisions that were taken. ‘These decisions concerned above all on the question of the second front or fronts. It was seemingly a military issue.
The English had long been favourable to the opening of a second front in the Balkans, not only to preserve their communication line Mediterranean traditional Russian attacks but also to prevent the Southeast flank of Europe from becoming a base for Soviet domination in Germany.
A balkanized zone of Europe focused on the dismembered empire Austria-Hungary, offered Stalin the most fertile field to the extension of the new Soviet order with the help of so-called Slavic movement “national liberation”. Since 1939, when England and Germany competed for the Soviet alliance that was then obtained ” by Hitler, the grandiose designs that nourished Stalin in the strategic area that goes from the Black Sea to the Adriatic were not a secret for Churchill.
The antagonism between Churchill and Stalin was well before Tehran. It was obvious for the two statesmen that there could be of permanent vacuum in the centre of Europe a Germany crushed, and the one who dominates Germany would ultimately dominate the continent. The question of the ‘second front identified itself so to this question: What Europe will we have?