OCW052: The Allies Gain Ground

The Battle of Stalingrad

The Battle of Stalingrad has been described as the biggest defeat in the history of the German Army and a decisive turning point in the downfall of Hitler in World War II.

Learning Objectives

Argue for or against the categorization of the Battle of Stalingrad as a turning point in the war

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The Battle of Stalingrad was marked by constant close quarters combat and direct assaults on civilians by air raids, and it is often regarded as one of the single largest and bloodiest battles in the history of warfare.
  • By mid-November, the Germans had nearly taken Stalingrad in bitter street fighting when the Soviets began their second winter counter-offensive, starting with an encirclement of German forces at Stalingrad and an assault on the Rzhev salient near Moscow.
  • By early February 1943, the German Army had taken tremendous losses; German troops at Stalingrad were forced to surrender, and the front line had been pushed back beyond its position before the summer offensive.
  • It was a turning point in the European theater of World War II; German forces never regained the initiative in the East and withdrew a vast military force from the West to replace their losses.

Key Terms

  • Operation Barbarossa: The code name for Nazi Germany’s World War II invasion of the Soviet Union, which began on June 22, 1941.
  • Battle of Moscow: The name given by Soviet historians to two periods of strategically significant fighting on a 600 km (370 mi) sector of the Eastern Front during World War II. It took place between October 1941 and January 1942 and was part of the German Operation Barbarossa.

Overview

The Battle of Stalingrad (August 23, 1942 – February 2, 1943) was a major battle on the Eastern Front of World War II in which Nazi Germany and its allies fought the Soviet Union for control of the city of Stalingrad (now Volgograd) in Southern Russia, on the eastern boundary of Europe.

Marked by constant close-quarters combat and direct assaults on civilians by air raids, it is often regarded as one of the single largest (nearly 2.2 million personnel) and bloodiest (1.7–2 million wounded, killed, or captured) battles in the history of warfare. The heavy losses inflicted on the German Wehrmacht make it arguably the most strategically decisive battle of the whole war and a turning point in the European theater of World War II. German forces never regained the initiative in the East and withdrew a vast military force from the West to replace their losses.

The German offensive to capture Stalingrad began in late summer 1942, using the German 6th Army and elements of the 4th Panzer Army. The attack was supported by intensive Luftwaffe bombing that reduced much of the city to rubble. The fighting degenerated into house-to-house fighting, and both sides poured reinforcements into the city. By mid-November 1942, the Germans pushed the Soviet defenders back at great cost into narrow zones along the west bank of the Volga River.

On November 19, 1942, the Red Army launched Operation Uranus, a two-pronged attack targeting the weaker Romanian and Hungarian forces protecting the German 6th Army’s flanks. The Axis forces on the flanks were overrun and the 6th Army was cut off and surrounded in the Stalingrad area. Adolf Hitler ordered that the army stay in Stalingrad and make no attempt to break out; instead, attempts were made to supply the army by air and to break the encirclement from the outside. Heavy fighting continued for another two months. By the beginning of February 1943, the Axis forces in Stalingrad had exhausted their ammunition and food. The remaining elements of the 6th Army surrendered. The battle lasted five months, one week, and three days.

Photo of Soviet soldiers attacking a house in Stalingrad. In the background are the ruins of buildings and rubble filling the streets.

Battle of Stalingrad: Soviet soldiers attack a house, February 1943

Background

By the spring of 1942, despite the failure of Operation Barbarossa to decisively defeat the Soviet Union in a single campaign, the Germans had captured vast expanses of territory, including Ukraine, Belarus, and the Baltic republics. Elsewhere, the war had been progressing well: the U-boat offensive in the Atlantic had been very successful and Rommel had just captured Tobruk. In the east, they stabilized their front in a line running from Leningrad in the north to Rostov in the south. There were a number of salients, but these were not particularly threatening. Hitler was confident that he could master the Red Army after the winter of 1942, because even though Army Group Centre had suffered heavy losses west of Moscow the previous winter, 65% of its infantry had not been engaged and was rested and re-equipped. Neither Army Group North nor Army Group South had been particularly hard pressed over the winter. Stalin was expecting the main thrust of the German summer attacks to be directed against Moscow again.

Since the initial operations were so successful, the Germans decided that their summer campaign in 1942 would be directed at the southern parts of the Soviet Union. The initial objectives in the region around Stalingrad were the destruction of the industrial capacity of the city and the deployment of forces to block the Volga River. The river was a key route from the Caucasus and the Caspian Sea to central Russia. Its capture would disrupt commercial river traffic. The Germans cut the pipeline from the oilfields when they captured Rostov on July 23. The capture of Stalingrad would make the delivery of Lend Lease supplies from America via the Persian Corridor much more difficult.

Aftermath

The German public was not officially told of the impending disaster until the end of January 1943, though positive media reports ended in the weeks before the announcement. Stalingrad marked the first time that the Nazi government publicly acknowledged a failure in its war effort; it was not only the first major setback for the German military, but a crushing, unprecedented defeat where German losses were almost equal to those of the Soviets. Prior losses of the Soviet Union were generally three times as high as the German ones. On January 31, regular programming on German state radio was replaced by a broadcast of the somber Adagio movement from Anton Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony, followed by the announcement of the defeat at Stalingrad.

On 18 February, Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels gave the famous Sportpalast speech in Berlin, encouraging the Germans to accept a total war that would claim all resources and efforts from the entire population.

Based on Soviet records, more than 10,000 soldiers continued to resist in isolated groups within the city for the next month. Some have presumed that they were motivated by a belief that fighting on was better than a slow death in Soviet captivity. The Israeli historian Omer Bartov claims they were motivated by National Socialism. He studied 11,237 letters sent by soldiers inside of Stalingrad between December 20, 1942 and January 16, 1943 to their families in Germany. Almost every letter expressed belief in Germany’s ultimate victory and their willingness to fight and die at Stalingrad to achieve that victory. Bartov reported that many of the soldiers were aware that they would not be able to escape from Stalingrad, but in their letters to their families boasted that they were proud to “sacrifice themselves for the Führer.”

Significance

Stalingrad has been described as the biggest defeat in the history of the German Army. It is often identified as the turning point on the Eastern Front, in the war against Germany overall, and the entire Second World War. Before Stalingrad, the German forces went from victory to victory on the Eastern Front, with only a limited setback in the winter of 1941–42. After Stalingrad, they won no decisive battles, even in summer. The Red Army had the initiative and the Wehrmacht was in retreat. A year of German gains during Case Blue had been wiped out. Germany’s Sixth Army had ceased to exist, and the forces of Germany’s European allies, except Finland, had been shattered. In a speech on November 9, 1944, Hitler himself blamed Stalingrad for Germany’s impending doom.

Stalingrad’s significance has been downplayed by some historians, who point either to the Battle of Moscow or the Battle of Kursk as more strategically decisive. Others maintain that the destruction of an entire army (the largest killed, captured, wounded figures for Axis soldiers, nearly 1 million, during the war) and the frustration of Germany’s grand strategy made the battle a watershed moment. At the time, however, the global significance of the battle was not in doubt.

Regardless of the strategic implications, there is little doubt that Stalingrad was a morale watershed. Germany’s defeat shattered its reputation for invincibility and dealt a devastating blow to morale. On January 30, 1943, his 10th anniversary of coming to power, Hitler chose not to speak. Joseph Goebbels read the text of his speech for him on the radio. The speech contained an oblique reference to the battle which suggested that Germany was now in a defensive war. The public mood was sullen, depressed, fearful, and war-weary. Germany was looking in the face of defeat.

The reverse was the case on the Soviet side. There was an overwhelming surge in confidence and belief in victory. A common saying was: “You cannot stop an army which has done Stalingrad.” Stalin was feted as the hero of the hour and made a Marshal of the Soviet Union.

The news of the battle echoed round the world, with many people now believing that Hitler’s defeat was inevitable.

The North African Front

The North African Campaign was fought between the Allies and Axis powers, many of whom had colonial interests in Africa dating from the late 19th century. It took place from June 10, 1940, to May 13, 1943, and included campaigns fought in the Libyan and Egyptian deserts in Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia.

Learning Objectives

Examine the significance of the North African Campaign

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The North African Campaign of WWII included campaigns fought in the Libyan and Egyptian deserts (Western Desert Campaign, also known as the Desert War) and in Morocco and Algeria (Operation Torch) and Tunisia ( Tunisia Campaign ).
  • Fighting in North Africa started with the Italian declaration of war on June 10, 1940, when British troops crossed the border from Egypt into Libya and captured the Italian Fort Capuzzo.
  • A see-saw series of battles for control of Libya and parts of Egypt followed, reaching a climax in the Second Battle of El Alamein in 1942 when British Commonwealth forces under the command of Lieutenant-General Bernard Montgomery delivered a decisive defeat to the Axis forces and pushed them back to Tunisia.
  • Operation Torch in November 1942 was a compromise operation that met the British objective of securing victory in North Africa while allowing American armed forces the opportunity to engage in the fight against Nazi Germany on a limited scale.
  • After fighting in Tunisia, the Axis forces surrendered on May 13, 1943 yielding over 275,000 prisoners of war.

Key Terms

  • Ultra: The designation adopted by British military intelligence in June 1941 for wartime signals intelligence obtained by breaking high-level encrypted enemy radio and teleprinter communications at the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park.
  • pincer: A military maneuver in which forces simultaneously attack both flanks (sides) of an enemy formation.
  • Tunisia Campaign: A series of battles that took place in Tunisia during the North African Campaign of the Second World War, between Axis and Allied forces.

Overview

The North African Campaign of the Second World War took place in North Africa from June 10, 1940, to May 13, 1943. It included campaigns fought in the Libyan and Egyptian deserts (Western Desert Campaign, also known as the Desert War) and in Morocco and Algeria (Operation Torch) and Tunisia (Tunisia Campaign).

The campaign was fought between the Allies and Axis powers, many of whom had colonial interests in Africa dating from the late 19th century. The Allied war effort was dominated by the British Commonwealth and exiles from German-occupied Europe. The United States entered the war in December 1941 and began direct military assistance in North Africa on May 11, 1942.

Fighting in North Africa started with the Italian declaration of war on June 10, 1940. On June 14, the British Army’s 11th Hussars (assisted by elements of the 1st Royal Tank Regiment, 1st RTR) crossed the border from Egypt into Libya and captured the Italian Fort Capuzzo. This was followed by an Italian counter-offensive into Egypt and the capture of Sidi Barrani in September 1940 and then in December 1940 by a Commonwealth counteroffensive, Operation Compass. During Operation Compass, the Italian 10th Army was destroyed and the German Afrika Korps—commanded by Erwin Rommel, who later became known as “The Desert Fox”—was dispatched to North Africa during Operation Sonnenblume to reinforce Italian forces and prevent a complete Axis defeat.

A see-saw series of battles for control of Libya and parts of Egypt followed, reaching a climax in the Second Battle of El Alamein in 1942 when British Commonwealth forces under the command of Lieutenant-General Bernard Montgomery delivered a decisive defeat to the Axis forces and pushed them back to Tunisia. After the Allied Operation Torch landings in Northwest Africa in late 1942 and subsequent battles against Vichy France forces (who then changed sides), the Allies finally encircled Axis forces in northern Tunisia and forced their surrender.

Operation Torch in November 1942 was a compromise operation that met the British objective of securing victory in North Africa while allowing American armed forces the opportunity to engage in the fight against Nazi Germany on a limited scale. In addition, as Joseph Stalin, the leader of the Soviet Union, had long been demanding a second front be opened to engage the Wehrmacht and relieve pressure on the Red Army, it provided some degree of relief for the Red Army on the Eastern Front by diverting Axis forces to the African theater, tying them up and destroying them there.

Information gleaned via British Ultra code-breaking intelligence proved critical to Allied success in North Africa. Victory for the Allies in this campaign immediately led to the Italian Campaign, which culminated in the downfall of the fascist government in Italy and the elimination of a German ally.

Western Desert Campaign

The Western Desert Campaign, or the Desert War, took place in the Western Desert of Egypt and Libya and was a theater in the North African Campaign during the Second World War. The campaign began in September 1940 with the Italian invasion of Egypt. The Italians halted to bring up supplies and Operation Compass, a British five-day raid in December 1940, led to the destruction of the Italian 10th Army. Benito Mussolini sought help from Adolf Hitler and a small German blocking detachment was sent to Tripoli under Directive 22 (January 11). These were the first units of the Afrika Korps under nominal Italian command but Italian dependency on Nazi Germany made it the dominant partner.

In the spring of 1941, Axis forces under Rommel pushed the British back and reached Tobruk, which was subjected to the Siege of Tobruk until it was relieved during Operation Crusader. The Axis forces were forced to retire to their starting point by the end of the year. In 1942 Axis forces drove the British back and captured Tobruk at the end of the Battle of Gazala, but failed to gain a decisive victory. On the final Axis push to Egypt, the British retreated to El Alamein. At the Second Battle of El Alamein the Eighth Army defeated the Axis forces, which never recovered and were driven out of Libya to Tunisia, where they were defeated in the Tunisia Campaign. After the British defeats in the Balkan Campaign, the Western Desert Campaign became more important to British strategy. For Hitler, the Eastern Front against the Soviet Union dwarfed the desert war, which was a holding action of secondary importance. The Axis never had sufficient resources or the means to deliver them to defeat the British, who missed several opportunities to finish the campaign by diverting resources to Greece and the Levant in 1941 and the Far East in 1942.

El Alamein 1942: British infantry advances through the dust and smoke of the battle.

Battle of El Alamein, 1942: British infantry advances through the dust and smoke of the battle.

Operation Torch

Operation Torch was the British-American invasion of French North Africa during the North African Campaign of the Second World War.

The Soviet Union pressed the United States and United Kingdom to start operations in Europe and open a second front to reduce the pressure of German forces on the Soviet troops. While the American commanders favored Operation Sledgehammer and landed in Occupied Europe as soon as possible, the British commanders believed that such a course would end in disaster.

An attack on French North Africa was proposed instead, which would clear the Axis powers from North Africa, improve naval control of the Mediterranean Sea, and prepare for an invasion of Southern Europe in 1943. U.S. President, Franklin D. Roosevelt suspected the African operation would rule out an invasion of Europe in 1943, but agreed to support British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

Operation Torch started on November 8, 1942, and finished on November 11. In an attempt to pincer German and Italian forces, Allied forces (American and British Commonwealth), landed in Vichy-held French North Africa under the assumption that there would be little to no resistance. In fact, Vichy French forces put up a strong and bloody resistance to the Allies in Oran and Morocco, but not in Algiers, where a coup d’état by the French resistance on November 8 neutralized the French XIX Corps before the landing and arrested the Vichy commanders. Consequently, the landings met no practical opposition in Algiers, and the city was captured on the first day along with the entire Vichy African command. After three days of talks and threats, Generals Mark Clark and Dwight Eisenhower compelled the Vichy Admiral François Darlan (and General Alphonse Juin) to order the cessation of armed resistance in Oran and Morocco by French forces on November 10-11 with the provision that Darlan would be head of a Free French administration. During Operation Torch, American, Vichy French, and German navy vessels fought the Naval Battle of Casablanca, ending in an American victory.

The Allied landings prompted the Axis occupation of Vichy France. In addition, the French fleet was captured at Toulon by the Italians, which did them little good as the main portion of the fleet had been scuttled to prevent its use by the Axis. The Vichy army in North Africa joined the Allies.

Photo of about 200 American soldiers landing on the beach near Algiers.

Operation Torch: American soldiers land near Algiers.

Tunisian Campaign

Following the Operation Torch landings, the Germans and Italians initiated a buildup of troops in Tunisia to fill the vacuum left by Vichy troops who had withdrawn. During this period of weakness, the Allies decided against a rapid advance into Tunisia while they wrestled with the Vichy authorities. Many of the Allied soldiers were tied up in garrison duties because of the uncertain status and intentions of the Vichy forces.

By the beginning of March, the British Eighth Army—advancing westward along the North African coast—reached the Tunisian border. Rommel and von Arnim found themselves in an Allied “two army” pincer. They were outflanked, outmanned, and outgunned. The British Eighth Army bypassed the Axis defence on the Mareth Line in late March and First Army in central Tunisia launched their main offensive in mid-April to squeeze the Axis forces until their resistance in Africa collapsed. The Axis forces surrendered on May 13, 1943, yielding over 275,000 prisoners of war. The last Axis force to surrender in North Africa was the 1st Italian Army. This huge loss of experienced troops greatly reduced the military capacity of the Axis powers, although the largest percentage of Axis troops escaped Tunisia. This defeat in Africa led to all Italian colonies in Africa being captured.

The Sicilian Campaign

The Allied invasion of Sicily, code named Operation Husky, was a major campaign of World War II in which the Allies took the island of Sicily from the Axis powers.

Learning Objectives

Discuss the events of the Sicilian Campaign

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Following the defeat of the Axis Powers in North Africa in May 1943, there was disagreement between the Allies as to what the next step should be. Churchill wanted to invade Italy, which he called “the soft underbelly of the axis.”
  • Joseph Stalin, the Soviet leader, was pressing Churchill and Roosevelt to open a “second front” in Europe to lessen the German Army’s focus on the Eastern Front, where the bulk of its forces were fighting in the largest armed conflict in history.
  • To distract and confuse the Axis, the Allies engaged in several deception operations, most famously Operation Mincemeat , where the British allowed a corpse disguised as a British Royal Marines officer to drift ashore in Spain carrying a briefcase containing fake secret documents.
  • Joint Allied forces planned and commanded the invasion of Sicily in July 1943, followed in September by the invasion of the Italian mainland and the campaign on Italian soil until the surrender of the German Armed Forces in Italy in May 1945.

Key Terms

  • Operation Husky: Codename for the allied invasion of Sicily in which the Allies took the island of Sicily from the Axis powers.
  • Operation Mincemeat: A successful British disinformation plan during the Second World War, which convinced the German high command that the Allies planned to invade Greece and Sardinia in 1943 instead of Sicily, the actual objective.

Overview

The Allied invasion of Sicily, code named Operation Husky, was a major campaign of World War II in which the Allies took the island of Sicily from the Axis powers (Italy and Nazi Germany). It was a large amphibious and airborne operation followed by a six-week land campaign and began the Italian Campaign.

Husky began on the night of July 9-10, 1943, and ended on August 17. Strategically, Husky achieved the goals set out for it by Allied planners; the Allies drove Axis air, land, and naval forces from the island and the Mediterranean sea lanes were opened for Allied merchant ships for the first time since 1941. Italian fascist leader, Benito Mussolini, was toppled from power, opening the way for the invasion of Italy. Hitler “canceled a major offensive at Kursk after only a week, in part to divert forces to Italy,” resulting in a reduction of German strength on the Eastern Front.

Background

Following the defeat of the Axis Powers in North Africa in May 1943, there was disagreement between the Allies as to what the next step should be. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill wanted to invade Italy, which in November 1942 he called “the soft underbelly of the axis” (and General Mark Clark, in contrast, later called “one tough gut”). Popular support in Italy for the war was declining, and he believed an invasion would remove Italy and thus the influence of Axis forces in the Mediterranean Sea, opening it to Allied traffic. This would reduce the shipping capacity needed to supply Allied forces in the Middle East and Far East at a time when the disposal of Allied shipping capacity was in crisis, and increase British and American supplies to the Soviet Union. In addition, it would tie down German forces. Joseph Stalin, the Soviet leader, had been pressing Churchill and Roosevelt to open a “second front” in Europe, which would lessen the German Army’s focus on the Eastern Front where the bulk of its forces were fighting in the largest armed conflict in history.

Deception

To distract the Axis and possibly divert some of their forces to other areas, the Allies engaged in several deception operations. The most famous and successful of these was Operation Mincemeat. The British allowed a corpse disguised as a British Royal Marines officer to drift ashore in Spain carrying a briefcase containing fake secret documents that purported to reveal that the Allies were planning “Operation Brimstone” and that an “Operation Husky” was an invasion of Greece. German intelligence accepted the authenticity of the documents and the Germans diverted much of their defensive effort from Sicily to Greece until the occupation of Pantellaria on June 11, which concentrated German and Italian attention on the western Mediterranean. Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel was sent to Greece to assume command. The Germans transferred a group of “R boats” (German minesweepers and minelayers) from Sicily and laid three additional minefields off the Greek coast. They also moved three panzer divisions to Greece, one from France and two from the Eastern Front, which reduced German combat strength in the Kursk salient.

The Invasion of Sicily

A combined British-Canadian-Indian-American invasion of Sicily began on July 10, 1943 with both amphibious and airborne landings at the Gulf of Gela (U.S. Seventh Army, Patton) and north of Syracuse (British Eighth Army, Montgomery). The original plan contemplated a strong advance by the British northwards along the east coast to Messina, with the Americans in a supporting role along their left flank. When the Eighth Army were held up by stubborn defenses in the rugged hills south of Mount Etna, Patton amplified the American role by a wide advance northwest toward Palermo and then directly north to cut the northern coastal road. This was followed by an eastward advance north of Etna towards Messina, supported by a series of amphibious landings on the north coast, that propelled Patton’s troops into Messina shortly before the first elements of Eighth Army. The defending German and Italian forces were unable to prevent the Allied capture of the island, but succeeded in evacuating most of their troops to the mainland, the last leaving on August 17, 1943. Allied forces gained experience in opposed amphibious operations, coalition warfare, and mass airborne drops.

Image of British troops unloading stores onto the beach from tank landing craft on the opening day of the invasion of Sicily.

Invasion of Sicily: Troops from the British 51st Division unloading stores from tank landing craft on the opening day of the invasion of Sicily, July 10, 1943.

The Italian Campaign

After the successful invasion of Sicily, forces of the British Eighth Army, still under Montgomery, landed in the “toe” of Italy on September 3, 1943 in Operation Baytown, the day the Italian government agreed to an armistice with the Allies. The armistice was publicly announced on September 8 by two broadcasts, first by Eisenhower and then a proclamation by Marshal Badoglio. Although the German forces prepared to defend without Italian assistance, only two of their divisions opposite the Eighth Army and one at Salerno were not tied up disarming the Italian Army.

On September 9, forces of the U.S. Fifth Army, expecting little resistance, landed against heavy German resistance at Salerno in Operation Avalanche; in addition, British forces landed at Taranto in Operation Slapstick, which was almost unopposed. There had been a hope that with the surrender of the Italian government, the Germans would withdraw to the north, since at the time Adolf Hitler had been persuaded that Southern Italy was strategically unimportant. However, this was not to be, though the Eighth Army was able to make relatively easy progress up the eastern coast, capturing the port of Bari and the important airfields around Foggia.

The American forces took possession of Rome on June 4, 1944. The German Tenth Army were allowed to get away and in the next few weeks were responsible for doubling the Allied casualties in the previous few months.

The Allies’ final offensive commenced with massive aerial and artillery bombardments on April 9, 1945. By April 18, Eighth Army forces in the east had broken through the Argenta Gap and sent armor racing forward in an encircling move to meet the US IV Corps advancing from the Apennines in Central Italy and trap the remaining defenders of Bologna.

As April came to an end, Army Group C, the Axis forces in Italy, was retreating on all fronts and had lost most of its fighting strength, left with little option but surrender. General Heinrich von Vietinghoff, who had taken command of Army Group C after Kesselring was transferred to become Commander-in-Chief of the Western Front (OB West) in March 1945, signed the instrument of surrender on behalf of the German armies in Italy on April 29, formally bringing hostilities to an end on May 2, 1945.

The Tehran Conference

The Tehran Conference was a strategy meeting of Joseph Stalin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill from November 28 to December 1, 1943, resulting in the Western Allies’ commitment to open a second front against Nazi Germany.

Learning Objectives

List the agreements reached by the parties participating in the Tehran Conference

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The Tehran Conference was the first World War II conference of the ” Big Three ” Allied leaders.
  • Although the 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, including an invasion on France.
  • Iran and Turkey were discussed in detail, with Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin all agreeing to support Iran’s government and the Soviet Union pledging support to Turkey if they entered the war.
  • After the conference, the Yugoslav Partisans were given full Allied support and Allied support to the Yugoslav Chetniks was halted as they were believed to be cooperating with the occupying Germans rather than fighting them.
  • The invasion of France on June 6, 1944 took place about as planned.

Key Terms

  • Big Three: The leaders of the main three countries that together opposed the Axis powers during the Second World War: the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union, namely Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin.

Overview

The Tehran Conference (code named Eureka) was a strategy meeting of Joseph Stalin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill from November 28 to December 1, 1943. It was held in the Soviet Union’s embassy in Tehran, Iran and was the first World War II conference of the “Big Three” Allied leaders (the Soviet Union, the United States, and the United Kingdom). It closely followed the Cairo Conference which took place on November 22-26 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.

Proceedings

The conference was to convene at 4 p.m. on November 28, 1943. Stalin arrived early, followed by Roosevelt, who 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, met Stalin for the first time. 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.

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.

Iran and Turkey were discussed in detail. Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin all agreed to support Iran’s government. 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, using 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 him. Churchill argued for the invasion of Italy in 1943, then Overlord in 1944, on the basis that Overlord was physically impossible in 1943 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, giving 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.

Decisions

The declaration issued by the three leaders on conclusion of the conference on December 1, 1943, recorded the following military conclusions:

  1. The Yugoslav Partisans should be supported by supplies and equipment and also by commando operations.
  2. It would be desirable for Turkey to enter war on the side of the Allies before the end of the year.
  3. 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 noted that this could be mentioned in the forthcoming negotiations to bring Turkey into the war.
  4. 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 as strong as availability of landing-craft permitted. The Conference further noted 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.
  5. 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

The Yugoslav Partisans were given full Allied support, and Allied support to the Yugoslav Chetniks was halted as 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 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 June 6, 1944 took place about as planned, and the supporting invasion of southern France also occurred (Operation Dragoon). The Soviets launched a major offensive against the Germans on June 22, 1944 (Operation Bagration).

A photo of the "Big Three," Joseph Stalin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill, on the portico of the Russian Embassy during the Tehran Conference to discuss the European Theatre in 1943.

Tehran Conference 1943: The “Big Three.” From left to right: Joseph Stalin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill on the portico of the Russian Embassy during the Tehran Conference to discuss the European Theatre in 1943. Churchill is shown in the uniform of a Royal Air Force air commodore.


Source: World History