As World War II progressed, it became apparent that a face-to-face conference between Allied leaders was needed. The results of the Tehran Conference in 1943 showed just how effective these conferences could be in determining Allied strategy.
Early on in World War II, the situation was looking grim for the Allies. With France capitulating, Britain forced off mainland Europe, and the Soviet Union backpedaling towards the Russian interior, the German military seemed unstoppable.
What more, Allied leaders were none too eager to be working with one another. The British and Americans were extremely wary of the communist government in the Soviet Union (USSR). Similarly, the USSR did not trust the British and Americans to follow through with their commitments to the war effort.
Regardless, by mid-1943, the Allies were able to halt the German advance. The Soviet Union was able to hold its ground and admirably won the pivotal battles of Stalingrad and Kursk.
Likewise, the British and Americans banished the Germans from North Africa and successfully invaded Sicily. The resulting collapse of Benito Mussolini’s fascist Italian regime was a major blow to the German war effort.
With the latest positive developments, the “Big Three” Allied leaders of Winston Churchill (Great Britain), Franklin D. Roosevelt (United States), and Joseph Stalin (Soviet Union) agreed to meet in person for the first time in Tehran, Iran.
The subsequent meeting, known as the Tehran Conference, was held from November 28 to December 1, 1943 and was an instrumental moment in the course of the war.
The Tehran Conference yielded several major decisions that would go on to alter the course of the war and the direction of the world in the aftermath of World War II.
Key Points of the Tehran Conference
The Tehran Conference of 1943 helped to stabilize the relationships among the Allied powers and provided future direction for the war effort.
One of the key points of the Tehran Conference was that Britain and the United States committed to open a second front in Western Europe. This second front was codenamed Operation Overlord and would be launched no later than the spring of 1944.
This invasion would directly lead to the monumental D-Day landings that would eventually liberate France.
Stalin had been pressing his Allied partners to open a front in the west as early as 1942 to help alleviate the pressure of the full might of the German army on the Soviet troops. He knew that his troops were weary and was looking to end the war as quickly as possible.1
Britain and the US instead opted to fight in North Africa and Italy while preparing for the inevitable massive invasion of Western Europe.
While the opening of a Western front was the primary outcome, there were several other key points discussed at the Tehran Conference.
The Allies all agreed that they would not end fighting until the unconditional surrender of Germany. This agreement prevented one of the powers from signing a separate peace treaty with the Germans, such as what the Russians did during World War I with the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.
The Allies also broached the topic of what to do with Germany following the war. No decisions here were finalized, though it was clear the Allies intended to divide Germany into pieces to prevent them from starting another war.
Two other key points from the Tehran Conference were the Allied agreement to establish an International Organization for peace and the Soviet promise to invade Japan after Germany was defeated.
This International Organization for peace would later be called the United Nations, and the design of the Security Council consisting of four superpower nations (USA, Great Britain, USSR, and China) to help promote peace and resolve international conflicts.2
FDR at the Tehran Conference
The location of the conference in Tehan, Iran was significant. Iran was positioned in a key location for the Allied war efforts.
Since at least 1942, the nation’s 800 mile rail line that connected the Caspian Sea and the Persian Gulf allowed the Americans and British to supply Soviet fighters with oil and fuel to meet their war needs.3
It was thus fitting that such an unheralded but essential cog in the war effort would go on to host the first of the wartime conferences between the Big Three.
The location was also significant simply given the inherent advantages it gave Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin. Stalin reportedly refused to meet anywhere where he could not maintain permanent contact with his war headquarters.2
The conference would thus need to take place somewhere near the Soviet Union, meaning that both Churchill and Roosevelt would need to travel great distances.
Roosevelt was famously handicapped, wheelchair-bound, and suffering from ill health at the time, meaning travel was of even greater difficulty for him. Given the security concerns and accommodations, Roosevelt accepted an offer from Stalin to stay at the Soviet embassy.
The subsequent meeting was the first in person between the two famed personalities. The two leaders came from polar opposite backgrounds, FDR from a wealthy upper class family and Stalin from poverty.
Roosevelt likely met Stalin with the intention of winning over the hardened leader and influencing him to back his grand ideas such as the creation of the eventual United Nations for the preservation of peace.1
Historians in general are critical of Roosevelt’s approach to the conference. Many claim he naively put too much faith in personal diplomacy and relied upon unseasoned diplomats. Roosevelt also favored discussing military solutions in the war and largely ignored the political ramifications.4
It is thus largely viewed the the United States and Britain too easily gave into Soviet demands, helping to create the political dynamic in Eastern Europe that would eventually lead to the Cold War.
Disagreements at the Conference
Despite the monumental decisions made at the Tehran Conference, there were also several disagreements between the Allied powers that impacted the results.
The Soviets had become impatient from the British and American delays in opening a second front in the West. It was thus demanded at the conference that the two powers open a second front as soon as possible.
A major impediment to opening a second front is that the two nations could not agree on where exactly to open said front. The British favored continuing the thrust upwards from the south through the Italian peninsula; what is attested to Churchill as the “soft underbelly of Europe.”1
The Americans, however, favored opening the second front in France by crossing the English channel. The British balked at this plan, believing such an invasion to be too risky and require far too many men.
The Soviets generally sided with the British strategy, but switched to promote the Americans’ plan, sensing it would open a second front sooner.
This disagreement was a major sticking point in negotiations. A day before the conference ended, Churchill finally gave in and relented. The invasion of France, Operation Overlord, would be launched via the Normandy beaches in the spring of 1944.
Another disagreement at the Tehran Conference was how Churchill and Roosevelt dealt with Stalin. Churchill was wary of Stalin’s intentions, especially in Eastern Europe. He foresaw the potential political ramifications should the Red Army occupy territory after taking ground back from the Germans.4
Roosevelt was far more trusting of Stalin and instead focused more on what he thought would end the war as quickly as possible. He downplayed the Soviet post-war threat, especially as Stalin showed interest in supporting Roosevelt’s post-war aim of the United Nations.
The Results of the 1943 Tehran Conference
The 1943 Tehran Conference concluded with major results and ramifications for the remainder of the war and the post-war world.
The conference itself initiated a roughly eighteen month period of intense positive collaboration between the three Allied nations. This collaboration was essential as the three nations came closer to defeating Germany, after which post-war order in Europe would be crucial.2
Interestingly, France was completely left out of the initial discussions at Tehran in regards to post-war influence over continental Europe.
Stalin had harsh words to say about the French, believing their ruling class to be “rotten to the core” given their quick capitulation and aid to Germany in the war (through Vichy France).1
Though France was later given a role to play, it is worth noting the lack of trust the British and Americans had in the free French movement and in particular their leader, Charles de Gaulle.
The Tehran Conference of 1943 is often overshadowed by the following two wartime conferences between the Big Three at Yalta and Potsdam. Despite this, the important decisions reached at Tehran played a key role in the future negotiations between the leaders.
Lastly, the Tehran Conference is notable given it is largely seen as the last international gathering where the British represented the West.
At Tehran it became quickly apparent that Britain was a declining power and the United States and Soviet Union would heretofore be the dominant nations representing the West and East.4
To learn more about US history, check out this timeline of the history of the United States.
1) Mastny, Vojtech. “Soviet War Aims at the Moscow and Teheran Conferences of 1943.” The Journal of Modern History, vol. 47, no. 3, University of Chicago Press, 1975, pp. 481–504, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1876003.
2) Reiman, Michael. “The USSR and Western Allies.” About Russia, Its Revolutions, Its Development and Its Present, Peter Lang AG, 2016, pp. 137–48, http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctv2t4dn7.12.
3) A. H. Hamzavi. “Iran and the Tehran Conference.” International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-), vol. 20, no. 2, [Wiley, Royal Institute of International Affairs], 1944, pp. 192–203, https://doi.org/10.2307/3018096.
4) Stoler, Mark A. “War by Conference.” The International History Review, vol. 8, no. 4, Taylor & Francis, Ltd., 1986, pp. 620–24, http://www.jstor.org/stable/40105669.