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 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 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. (By April 1944, the eight opera­tional bases were suit­ably advanced to begin nas­cent opera­tions against Japa­nese interests using 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. Roose­velt opposed these aims and was even more opposed to risking Ameri­can lives to shore up British interests anywhere outside the British Isles.

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 and Opera­tion Dra­goon on the French Riviera) in con­junc­tion with a Soviet attack on Germany’s eastern border (Opera­tion Bagra­tion). Expec­tation was that a second front would dis­suade Adolf Hitler from moving any military forces from Eastern Europe to France.

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 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 1943Tehran Conference participants, November–December 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” (l–r, Soviet premier Joseph Stalin, Roose­velt, and Chur­chill) on the portico of the Soviet Embassy 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. Discus­sions covered the post­war divi­sion of Ger­many. In Octo­ber 1944 in Canada, Roose­velt and Chur­chill agreed to divide defeated Germany into occupation zones.

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. The 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, 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