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WW II: Behind Closed Doors

Stalin, the Nazis and the West

The Conferences

During World War II, Allied leaders had many ways to stay in contact. They could cable or telephone, send written communications, and dispatch ambassadors and other representatives to conferences–but there was nothing like meeting in person to ensure that a point was adequatelystressed, to forge a friendship, or to understand how to best manipulate the other man. Great Britain’s prime minister, Winston Churchill, knew this well; an intrepid traveler, he took long and often dangerous journeys to all thirteen of the major conferences. U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt’s struggle with polio made long-distance travel difficult, while the Soviet Union’s supreme leader, Joseph Stalin, involved in a brutal fight against Nazi Germany and obsessed with politics in Moscow, was even less willing to travel. When he did, he refused to stray far from home.

Over time, a tenuous bond formed between the Allied leaders, since each needed help from the others. The Soviet Union was desperate for the Western Allies to open a second front in Europe, the fate of Great Britain depended on the USSR’s ability to occupy the Nazis on the eastern front, and the United States wanted allies in its war against Japan. A declaration released on December 1, 1943, after the three men met for the first time in Teheran, proclaimed: “We leave here, friends in fact, in spirit and in purpose.” But even as they offered mutual assistance and relied on one another, their goals for the postwar world were vastly different, compromises were inevitable, and the Allied leaders remained suspicious about the others’ intentions.

Atlantic (codename Riveria)

August 9 – 12, 1941

Location
Placentia Bay, off the Newfoundland coast, Canada, aboard two ships: the USS Augusta and the HMS Prince of Wales

Participants
Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt

Objectives: Churchill: to draw the United States into World War II (a goal that went unrealized) and to secure more help for the weary British, who had been at war since 1939; Roosevelt: to cement relations with Churchill, discuss terms for Lend-Lease assistance, and strengthen domestic support for ties to Great Britain.

Outcome: At this, their first meeting, Churchill and Roosevelt began to forge a partnership. Roosevelt agreed to provide more Lend-Lease aid and to protect British shipping between Canada and Iceland. The two leaders issued a joint warning to Japan about that country’s aggression and sent a note to Stalin suggesting the three meet to discuss “our common effort.” They also issued the Atlantic Charter, which expressed a commitment to the principles of selfgovernance and freedom for every country, called for the “destruction of the Nazi tyranny,” and looked forward to free trade, cooperation, and peace among all nations.

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Prime Minister Churchill and President Roosevelt seated at a meeting at the White House on June 25, 1942.

Washington, D.C., 1941-1942 (codename Arcadia)

December 22, 1941 – January 14, 1942

Location
Washington, D.C.

Participants
Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt

Objectives: Churchill/Roosevelt: to discuss the Allied defense strategy; Churchill: to ensure that Great Britain continue to receive American aid in Europe despite the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Outcome: The Declaration of the United Nations was created, establishing an Allied alliance to oppose the Axis nations; it was signed by 26 countries on January 1, 1942. Churchill and Roosevelt also began organizing a coordinated Allied war effort, created the combined chiefs of staff, and agreed that a supreme commander would oversee each theater of war. They resolved that the Allies would focus first on defeating Germany and formulated plans to invade North Africa.

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Moscow, 1942

August 12 – 17, 1942

Location
Moscow, Soviet Union

Participants
Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin

Objectives: Churchill: to forge a bond with Stalin and reassure him that the Western Allies supported the Soviet Union and would eventually open a second European front; Stalin: to receive a commitment that the Allies would open a second front in Europe–soon.

Outcome: In this, their first meeting, Churchill could not promise Stalin a second front, but he explained how the Western Allies’ military strategy would aid the Soviet Union by bombing Germany and invading North Africa.

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Prime Minister Churchill and President Roosevelt with the United States and British Chiefs of Staff at the President's villa at Casablanca, January 18, 1943.

Casablanca (codename Symbol)

January 14 – 23, 1943

Location
Casablanca, Morocco

Participants
Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt (Stalin was invited but did not attend)

Objectives: Churchill: to promote an invasion of Sicily during discussions about future military maneuvers; Roosevelt: to advance a policy requiring the Axis to surrender unconditionally; he had also hoped to meet with Stalin.

Outcome: The Allies planned a combined bombing offensive against Germany, agreed to invade Sicily, and began preliminary discussions that would eventually result in Operation Overlord, or the invasion of Normandy (D-Day) in 1944. Two leaders of French resistance forces, Charles de Gaulle and Henri Giraud, also attended and were encouraged to cooperate with each other. At a joint press conference after the meeting Roosevelt announced that the Allies would pursue a policy of unconditional surrender against the Axis nations, calling for “the destruction of the philosophies in those countries which are based on conquest and the subjugation of other people.”

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Washington, D.C., 1943 (codename Trident)

May 11 – 25, 1943

Location
Washington, D.C.

Participants
Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt

Objectives: Churchill: to ensure that the Americans remained focused on the European war even as they struggled against Japan in the Pacific, and to push for an Allied offensive in Italy after the attack on Sicily; Roosevelt: to plan the cross-Channel invasion of France.

Outcome: They discussed operations against Japan and the ongoing Battle of the Atlantic and debated which strategy to pursue in Europe. In the end, they agreed on an Italian offensive, with the caveat that it could not jeopardize the plans for the cross-Channel attack. They decided to delay the cross-Channel invasion of France until May 1, 1944, but decided that Mediterranean divisions would be transferred to England for cross-Channel training starting in November 1943. They also agreed to pursue a policy of unconditional surrender against Italy.

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Prime Ministers Mackenzie King and Churchill, President Roosevelt, and the Earl of Athlone (Governor General of Canada) on the terrace at the Citadel, Quebec, August 18, 1943.

Quebec, 1943 (codename Quadrant)

August 17 – 24, 1943

Location
Quebec, Canada

Participants
Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt

Objectives: Churchill/Roosevelt: to discuss global strategy; Churchill: to press for further action in the Mediterranean; Roosevelt: to solidify plans for Operation Overlord, the cross-Channel attack on France planned for May 1944.

Outcome: Plans for Operation Overlord progressed and were given priority over operations in the Mediterranean. They formed a new theater of war command in Southeast Asia and authorized offensives to further aid the Chinese war effort. The Allies also decided to pressure Spain, which was providing the Nazis with raw materials and manpower, to stop supporting Germany. Churchill and Roosevelt signed the secret Quebec Agreement about the development of the atomic bomb. In it they pledged not to use nuclear weapons against one another and not toemploy nuclear weapons against another country or share information about the weapons with another country, without mutual consent.

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Generalissimo Chiang, President Roosevelt, Prime Minister Churchill, and Madame Chiang in the garden of the villa occupied by Roosevelt at Cairo, November 25, 1943.

Cairo (codename Sextant)

November 23 – 26, December 3 – 7, 1943

Location
Cairo, Egypt

Participants
Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Chiang Kai-shek (China), Ismet Inönü (Turkey)

Objectives: Churchill: to ensure that Operation Overlord preparations would not adversely affect the Mediterranean offensive, to bring neutral Turkey into the war on the Allied side; Roosevelt: to meet with the Chinese.

Outcome: The leaders planned operations in the Southeast Asia theater of war . Chiang, Churchill, and Roosevelt issued the Cairo Declaration on December 1, 1943, stating, “The Three Great Allies are fighting this war to restrain and punish the aggression of Japan.” They resolved that postwar Japan would be stripped of possessions acquired after 1914, agreed that China would regain lost territory, committed themselves to a free Korea, and vowed that “Japan will also be expelled from all other territories which she has taken by violence and greed.” Stalin had chosen not to attend the Cairo conference because the Soviet Union was not at war with Japan, so Churchill and Roosevelt interrupted the meeting and traveled to Teheran, Persia (Iran) to meet with Stalin. After returning from Teheran, they tried unsuccessfully to convince Inönü to join the Allies in the war and selected U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower as the supreme commander for Operation Overlord, the invasion of Normandy.

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Marshal Stalin, President Roosevelt, and Prime Minister Churchill on the portico of the Russian Embassy at Tehran, November 29, 1943.

Teheran (codename Eureka)

November 28 – December 1, 1943

Location
Teheran, Persia (Iran)

Participants
Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Joseph Stalin

Objectives: Churchill: to argue the necessity of the Mediterranean offensive; Roosevelt: to meet with Stalin in person and build a cooperative relationship, to gain Soviet support for the primacy of the Normandy invasion over Mediterranean operations, and to get Stalin to promise to fight Japan; Stalin: to discuss opening a second Allied front in France (Operation Overlord ) and to gain more postwar territory.

Outcome: At last the “Big Three ” met face-to-face for the first time. They settled on the timing of Operation Overlord and Stalin committed to launch an eastern front offensive against Germany that coincided with the attack. Stalin pledged to assist in the war against Japan after Germany was defeated and expressed his wish that, after the war, the 1941 USSR borders with Finland and Poland be restored. The leaders discussed the fate of Poland and the possibility of ceding a portion of eastern Germany to Poland to compensate for the Polish territory that the USSR would claim. They touched on how to handle a postwar Germany, and Churchill and Roosevelt promised to try to get Turkey to join the Allies . In the Declaration of the Three Powers, released on December 1, 1943, Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin wrote “we are sure that our concord will win an enduring Peace.”

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The Heads of Government at the press conference held at the conclusion
of the Second Quebec Conference. Seated, left to right: Prime Minister Churchill, President Roosevelt, and Prime Minister Mackenzie King.

Quebec, 1944 (codename Octagon)

September 12 – 16, 1944

Location
Quebec, Canada

Participants
Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt

Objectives: Churchill: to ensure that Great Britain received extended U.S. Lend-Lease supplies and to propose dividing Germany into zones of occupation ; Roosevelt: to discuss the plan on the deindustrialization of Germany created by Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau.

Outcome: They determined Allied military strategy in Europe and the Pacific. Churchill committed a British fleet to help the U.S. in the Pacific war and received the assurance of continued Lend-Lease aid while Japan remained undefeated. The men agreed that Germany would be divided into occupation zones after the war. Despite Churchill’s reservations, they alsoapproved the Morgenthau plan to obliterate German industry and give German machinery to Allied nations; the plan was later abandoned.

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Prime Minister Churchill and Marshal Joseph Stalin at the Moscow conference, 1944

Moscow, 1944 (codename Tolstoy)

October 9 – 19, 1944

Location
Moscow, Soviet Union

Participants
Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin

Objectives: Churchill: to ensure the Soviet Union would enter the Pacific War, to divide Eastern Europe into zones of responsibility, and to propose that Stalin meet with leaders of the Polish government-in-exile to reach an agreement about Poland’s post-war borders; Stalin: to expand the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence .

Outcome: The U.S. sent Ambassador Averell Harriman to this conference as an observer, and U.S. General John Deane was also present at times. Stalin was briefed on the overall Allied strategy, and he agreed that the Soviet Union could enter the war against Japan about three months after Germany’s defeat. The men discussed post-war spheres of influence in eastern Europe, informally deciding that the Soviet Union would have more prominence in Romania and Bulgaria, Great Britain would have more in Greece, and Yugoslavia and Hungary would be split in half (later talks altered this agreement further in the USSR’s favor). Stalin also agreed to invite the head of the Polish government-in-exile, Stanislaw Mikolajczyk, to Moscow to discuss the future of Poland. Churchill supported Stalin’s proposal to annex a portion of eastern Poland while awarding Poland a part of eastern Germany–a suggestion Mikolajczyk did not agree to. The Polish situation was left unresolved.

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Malta (codename Argonaut, phase 1 Cricket)

January 30 – February 3, 1945

Location
Malta

Participants
Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt

Objectives: The Western Allies wanted to review and hone their combined military strategy in Europe as the war with Germany began drawing to a close, and to discuss strategy in the Far East.

Outcome: Just before the meeting of the “Big Three” in Yalta, U.S. secretary of state Edward Stettinius and British foreign secretary Anthony Eden met to discuss their combined military strategy. Churchill and Roosevelt met with one another only twice at Malta. As the strategic plan for Europe was being developed, the British made concessions, agreeing to transfersome Allied divisions in the Mediterranean to the western front to fight Germany.

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Prime Minister Churchill, President Roosevelt, and Marshal Stalin in the patio at Livadia Palace, Yalta, February 10, 1945.

Yalta (codename Argonaut, phase 2 Magneto)

February 4 – 11, 1945

Location
Yalta, Crimea

Participants
Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Joseph Stalin

Objectives: Churchill: to approve France as one of the occupying powers in Europe and to promote democracy in Europe (a goal of Roosevelt’s as well); Roosevelt: to settle unresolved issues related to the United Nations with Stalin and to ensure that the USSR would enter the war against Japan; Stalin: to guarantee that the Soviet Union had a wide sphere of influence in Eastern Europe, to gain more territory for his country, and to collect reparations from Germany after the war’s end.

Outcome: The leaders coordinated the Western Allies’ European strategy with the Soviet Union’s activities on the eastern front, but most of this conference was devoted to postwar issues rather than military strategy. They created the Allied Control Commission to oversee the postwar division of Germany and confirmed that Germany and Berlin would be divided into four zones of occupation overseen by France, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States. Poland’s postwar borders were a point of contention, but they agreed to give part of Poland to the USSR after Stalin promised that free elections would be held soon in Poland. The three men signed the Declaration on Liberated Europe, affirming the right of all people to “to create democratic institutions of their own choice” and pledged to assist in “the earliest possible establishment through free elections of Governments responsive to the will of the people.” Roosevelt’s concern over the war with Japan prompted him to sign a secret agreement with Stalin that would give the USSR Japanese territory and economic rights in Manchuria in exchange for a Soviet declaration of war against Japan. Churchill was not informed of this agreement.

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The Three Heads of Government, Prime Minister Attlee, President Truman and Generalissimo Stalin at the Potsdam conference, August 1, 1945

Potsdam (codename Terminal)

July 17 – August 2, 1945

Location
Potsdam, Germany

Participants
Winston Churchill/Clement Attlee, Joseph Stalin, Harry S. Truman

Objectives: Churchill/Attlee: to guarantee free elections in Poland; Stalin: to promote the USSR’s puppet government in Poland and to achieve a favorable western Polish border; Truman: to involve the Soviet Union in the Pacific War and to insist on Japan’s “unconditional surrender ”.

Outcome: After winning the war in Europe, a different set of Allied leaders met in Germany. U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt had died on April 12, 1945, so the United States was represented by the new president, Harry S. Truman. Also, during this conference, elections in Great Britain made Clement Attlee the new British prime minister, so he replaced Churchill at the talks.

The leaders discussed postwar Europe and created the Council of Foreign Ministers to further resolve European border issues and negotiate peace treaties. They discussed the fate of defeated Germany and scheduled the first war crimes trial. Poland’s western boundary was determined, and the Western Allies reluctantly gave the Soviet-controlled Polish government more power, while Stalin again promised that free elections would be held there soon. The Allies considered the surrender terms for Japan and on July 26, Great Britain, the United States, and China issued the Potsdam Declaration . The document limited Japan’s sovereignty to four islands, called forJapanese disarmament, insisted on the prosecution of Japanese war criminals, mandated that the country promote democratic principles, and required the nation to be occupied until these terms were met. Calling for Japan’s “unconditional surrender,” the Allies warned that the alternative was Japan’s “prompt and utter destruction.” With British consent, Truman advised Stalin about the United States’ success in testing “a new weapon of unusual destructive force.” Stalin promised to enter the Pacific War in August.

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