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Written By: Peter Ayers Wimbrow III
*Click images below to view larger versions.
Meeting at the first Cairo Conference: Kai-Shek, FDR, Churchill & Madame Chiang; standing between Madame Chiang & Churchill is Adm. Lord Louis Mountbatten.
At the Tehran Conference: Stalin, FDR & Churchill; behind Stalin's left shoulder U.S.S.R. Foreign Minister V. Molotov; Anthony Eden behind Churchill.
Shah of Iran greeting Churchill, November 30, 1943.
FDR's airplane, the Sacred Cow.
In the Drawing Room of the British Legation, Roosevelt, Churchill & Stalin celebrate Churchill's 69th birthday, Nov. 30, 1943.

    THIS MONTH, 70 years ago, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Prime Minister Sir Winston S. Churchill and Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, Chairman of the National Government of China, concluded their first joint conference, which was held in the Egyptian capital of Cairo, from November 22 - November 26, 1943. While in Cairo, the President also met with King George II of Greece and King Peter of Yugoslavia. The President and the Prime Minister then flew to the Iranian capital of Tehran, on Saturday, November 27, 1943, where they met with Soviet leader Marshal Josef Stalin, beginning the next day. After the Tehran Conference, the Prime Minister and the President returned to Cairo on December 2 and met with the Milli Şef (National Chief) of Turkey, General Mustafa İsmet İnönü, at the Second Cairo Conference.
    Since the Soviet Union was not, yet, at war with Japan, and China was, and Chiang was attending the conference in Cairo, Stalin used that as his excuse not to join the other three in Cairo, on the pretext of not wanting to offend the Japanese. In reality, it probably had more to do with the Soviet leader’s penchant for control. The U.S.S.R. had an embassy and troops in Tehran, and neither in Cairo. And the meetings were held in the Soviet Embassy and the President stayed there. The Soviets bugged the President’s quarters and any rooms the Allies used in the Soviet Embassy.
    The President departed Washington, at 10:30 P.M., November 11, aboard the Presidential yacht Potomac, with General Edwin Martin Watson, Harry Hopkins, Admirals William D. Leahy and Wilson Brown. The next day, the party transferred to the new battleship Iowa. After nine days, the Iowa arrived at Oran in Algeria, where it was met by the President’s sons, FDR, Jr. and Elliott, and General Eisenhower. Ike and the President’s party traveled to Tunis, where he and the President toured the ruins of the nearby ancient city of Carthage which had once rivaled Rome for suzereignity of the Mediterranean area, sending its greatest general, Hannibal, across the Alps to bedevil its Roman enemies for 13 years.
    From Tunis the Presidential party flew to Cairo aboard the Sacred Cow, on November 22. The Sacred Cow was a C-54 which Douglas Aircraft modified and produced especially for the President. One special feature was an elevator to lift the President, and his chair, from the ground to the passenger compartment. Upon landing, the Americans were met by Churchill.
    At the first conference, the British and the Americans were nearly driven crazy because everything had to be translated twice for the Generalissimo - once by the official interpreter and then by his wife, Madam Chiang, who insisted her translation was truer to her husband’s intentions.  By the end of that conference, the Generalissimo felt that the British and Americans were treating China as an unimportant theater, while the President had become frustrated by the Generalissimo’s political intrigues.  Churchill was frustrated because he felt that the President spent too much time with the Generalissimo, discussing a relatively unimportant theater, when more urgent topics were pressing. However, publically, they presented a united front against the Empire of Japan, demanding its unconditional surrender and announcing that it would be expelled from all territories it had seized since 1914, including Korea.
    In Tehran, the President accepted Stalin’s offer to stay in the main building of the Soviet Embassy Compound, which was across the street from the British Embassy. Stalin stayed in a smaller building. The American Embassy, where the President spent his first night in Tehran, was located on the outskirts of the city, a distance away from the other two. The Soviets blockaded the street between the two missions, built walls connecting the two compounds and constructed a temporary passage between the two. Both compounds were protected by four rings of security with anti-aircraft and machine gun emplacements manned by 3000 NKVD troops.
    The first meeting of the Tehran Conference occurred at 4:00 P.M. on Sunday, November 28, 1943 in the conference room of the Soviet Embassy. The Prime Minister was accompanied by Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden, Field Marshal Sir John Dill, Lord General Sir Hastings Ismay and the three Chiefs of Staff. The President was accompanied by Harry Hopkins and Admirals William D. Leahy and Ernest King. Generals George C. Marshall and Henry Arnold were supposed to be present, but were confused as to the time of the meeting and were out sightseeing. Marshal Stalin was accompanied by old comrades Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov and Marshal Kliment I. Voroshilov. The Soviets had made a round oak table for the occasion, so there would be no arguments about seating.
    After the meeting, the President hosted a dinner for those in attendance.  The next morning, the Military Chiefs of the three countries met, while “The Big Three” met again at 4:00 p.m. At that meeting, the Prime Minister presented the Sword of Honor from King George VI, commemorating the Red Army’s victory at Stalingrad, to Stalin. When Stalin accepted it, he kissed the scabbard. Then he, unexpectedly, handed it to Marshal Voroshilov, who dropped it! It was then carried from the room by a Soviet Guard of Honor.
    On November 30, the three leaders had lunch in the President’s quarters of the Soviet Embassy, where the President and the Prime Minister informed Stalin that the cross-channel invasion - “Operation Overlord” - would be launched in May of the following year. After that, the work session was begun again at 4:00 p.m.   Following the finish of business, everyone proceeded to the British Embassy to celebrate the Prime Minister’s 69th birthday.  After many toasts, Stalin acknowledged that without the materiel help of the U.S., “...we would lose this war.” The President gave the Prime Minister a beautiful porcelain vase. On the return to London, it was broken into several pieces, but was reconstructed. The party finally ended at 2:00 a.m.
    The three agreed that following the defeat of the Axis powers, the eastern border of Poland would be moved west so that the Soviet Union would retain, more or less, the borders developed in its agreement with the German Reich in August 1939. As compensation, Poland’s western border would also be moved west, thereby occupying a portion of Germany. The three leaders also decided that Finland would remain as an independent country and would not return as part of the Soviet Union, even though it had been a part of the Russian Empire, for more than a century, prior to Word War I. Finally, Stalin promised that three months after Germany’s defeat, the U.S.S.R. would enter the war against Japan. (True to his word, exactly three months after Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel executed the surrender documents on May 8, 1945, the Red Army launched a massive assault on Japanese-occupied Manchuria on August 8, 1945.)
    On December 4, the Turkish delegation, led by the Milli Şef  arrived in Cairo. The Prime Minister tried to get Turkey to enter the war, but it declined, although it did receive a pledge of assistance in any struggle with the Soviet Union over the Dardanelles.
    As the President and the PM were riding back to their respective lodgings, near the Pyramids, from Cairo, in the President’s car, he casually informed the Prime Minister that he had selected General Eisenhower as the leader of the Cross-Channel Invasion. On December 7, Roosevelt boarded the Sacred Cow and departed Egypt for Tunis, for another visit with Ike. After visits to Allied bases on Malta and Sicily, the President flew to Dakar, Senegal and, from there to Washington, on December 9.
    Churchill flew from Cairo to Tunis, the same day, intending to meet briefly with Ike before continuing to England. But he had been ill during all three conferences, and now, it really caught him. Diagnosed with pneumonia, he would not return to London until mid-January.
    The “Big Three” would meet, once more, in Yalta, in February 1945.

Mr. Wimbrow writes from Ocean City, Maryland, where he practices law representing those persons accused of criminal and traffic offenses, and those persons who have suffered a personal injury through no fault of their own.  Mr. Wimbrow can be contacted at
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