Cairo, Egypt November 24, 1943

On this date in 1943 in Egypt, U.S. President Franklin D. Roose­velt, British Prime Minis­ter Winston Chur­chill, and Chi­nese leader Gener­al­is­simo Chiang Kai-shek (leader of a some­times forgotten ally) con­tinued their series of talks during their Cairo Con­fer­ence (Novem­ber 23–27, 1943). Churchill and his party had hoped to estab­lish a way to deal with Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, who had declined an invi­ta­tion to meet in Cairo, forcing the “Big Three” to meet in Tehran, Iran, at the end of the month.

From the British perspective, the Cairo meeting failed to achieve its aims. For one thing, Roose­velt, whose health was starting to deteri­o­rate, was edgy and with­drawn; he ignored the Stalin issue and focused the talks mainly on building up Allied mili­tary forces in the Far East suffi­cient to force Japan’s un­con­di­tional sur­render. The Ameri­can, British, and Chi­nese leaders agreed to con­struct long-dis­tance, heavy bomber bases in the China-Burma-India (CBI) Theater, and even­tually eight were built (four in India and four in China), starting with Cheng­du in Cen­tral China, 1,500 miles from Japa­nese soil. (At the time of the confer­ence, it was assumed by the Amer­i­can Joint Chiefs of Staff that Chi­nese land bases would provide the launching pad for a strate­gic bombing cam­paign against Japan, and by April 1944 the eight opera­tional bases were suit­ably advanced to begin nas­cent opera­tions against Japa­nese interests using four-engine B‑29 Super­for­tresses.) Churchill was clear that one of his pri­mary war aims in the Far East was to restore Britain’s rela­tion­ship with her colo­nies of Malaya, Burma, Hong Kong, and Sing­a­pore, all of which were now occu­pied by the Japa­nese enemy. Roose­velt opposed these aims and was even more opposed to risking Ameri­can lives to shore up British interests any­where out­side the British Isles—Aus­tra­lian (Eastern) New Guinea (part of the British Commonwealth) notwithstanding.

In Tehran, where the two Western leaders were joined by Stalin, the three men com­mitted them­selves to opening a second front in France (Opera­tion Over­lord in Nor­mandy in May 1944 and Opera­tion Dra­goon on the French Riviera) in con­junc­tion with a Soviet attack on the captured German terri­tories in Belo­russia (today’s Belarus), the Baltic, and Eastern Poland (Opera­tion Bagra­tion). Expec­tation was that a cross-channel inva­sion of Adolf Hitler’s Festung Europe (Fort­ress Europe) would dis­suade Germany from moving any mili­tary forces from their beleaguered Eastern front to France. Also in Tehran Stalin announced his country’s new commit­ment to joining in the Western Allies’ war against Japan after Germany’s defeat. The Amer­i­can Joint Chiefs of Staff saw Stalin’s offer as an essen­tial ingredient in forcing Japan’s unconditional surrender.

Of long-lasting global significance were the various agree­ments in 1944 and 1945 reached by the Allied leaders and their repre­sen­ta­tives that nations in league with Axis heavy­weights Germany and Italy would be divided into terri­tories to be con­trolled after the war by the U.S., Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union.

Major Allied Strategy Conferences, 1943–1945

Cairo Conference participants, November 22–26, 1943Tehran Conference participants, Novem­ber 28 to Decem­ber 1, 1943

Left: Nationalist Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek, U.S. President Franklin D. Roose­velt, and British Prime Minis­ter Winston Chur­chill at the Cairo Con­fer­ence (Novem­ber 22–26, 1943) addressed the Allied posi­tion against Japan and the future of post­war Asia. The Cairo Declara­tion, issued on Novem­ber 27, 1943, stipulated that “Japan be stripped of all the islands in the Pacific which she has seized or occu­pied since the beginning of the First World War”; “all the terri­tories Japan has stolen from the Chi­nese, such as Man­chu­ria and For­mosa (Taiwan), shall be restored to the Republic of China”; and that in due course the Japanese colony of Korea “shall become free and independent.”

Right: The “Big Three” (left to right), Soviet premier Joseph Stalin, Roose­velt, and Chur­chill on the portico of the Soviet Embassy, where all three stayed during the Tehran Con­ference, Novem­ber 28 to Decem­ber 1, 1943. It was the first Allied con­fer­ence Stalin attended, and it focused primarily on stra­tegic coordi­na­tion among the Allies on the war’s mul­ti­ple fronts. Discus­sions covered the fates of the Baltic coun­tries of Latvia, Estonia, and Lithu­a­nia, which had once been part of the Russian Empire; Poland’s fate; and the post­war divi­sion of Germany. Ten months later at the Octa­gon Con­fer­ence in Septem­ber 1944 in Quebec, Canada, Roose­velt and Chur­chill, minus Stalin, agreed to divide defeated Germany into occu­pa­tion zones to ensure that a peaceful Germany emerged when the occupying forces withdrew.

Yalta Conference participants, February 4–11, 1945Potsdam Conference participants, July–August 1945

Left: Held in Soviet Crimea between February 4 and 11, 1945, the Yalta summit was the first Allied con­fer­ence that focused on the post­war world. All three Allies agreed on an Allied Con­trol Com­mis­sion to over­see defeated Ger­many. Germany and Austria, as well as their capitals, would be divided into four occu­pation zones—U.S., British, Soviet, and French.

Right: With victory in Europe achieved, the Big Three (Stalin, Harry S. Truman repre­senting the U.S. following Roose­velt’s death, and Clement Attlee repre­senting Great Britain after defeating Chur­chill’s party in British elec­tions) dis­cussed the sur­render terms for Japan during the Potsdam Con­fer­ence, which was held near Berlin between July 17 and August 2, 1945. The Potsdam Declara­tion, issued on July 26, 1945, with China’s approval but not that of the still-neutral Soviet Union, affirmed the terms of the Cairo Declara­tion (Novem­ber 27, 1943), but also required Japan’s uncon­ditional sur­render. Japa­nese sover­eignty was limited to four main islands (Japan’s “Home Islands”), and the country was to be occupied by the U.S. Armed Forces.

Contemporary Newsreel of Big Three at Cairo and Tehran Conferences, 1943: Roosevelt, Churchill, Chiang Kai-shek, and Stalin