A common language, history, and culture bound the United States and the United Kingdom closer together than any other nation. Helping to cement that friendship was the close relationship of United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt and UK Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill.
Churchill, whose mother was American, and Roosevelt, the scion of a patrician New York family, developed mutual respect that overcame disagreements and fostered close personal communications.
Throughout the war, security of communications was a major concern, but through telegrams and face-to-face meetings, top-level Allied strategy was hammered out in a series of meetings known as the “Big Two” meetings.
Meeting off the coast of Newfoundland on August 9-12, 1941, Roosevelt and Churchill proclaimed the Atlantic Charter, the basis of Allied resistance throughout the war. In the charter the two nations agreed not to sue for a separate peace, not to alter borders without the consent of the people affected; to promote self-government; to grant all nations, including the Axis, access to raw materials after the war; to ensure worldwide economic security; and to encourage postwar disarmament. The Atlantic Charter became the basis of the United Nations Charter in 1945.
At the Atlantic Conference, the two leaders agreed to meet regularly to discuss strategy. These meetings were a factor in the “Germany First” strategy, as both leaders saw Germany as the primary threat.
Conferences were held between Roosevelt and Churchill in Washington, D.C., from December 22, 1941 – January 14, 1942 (Arcadia Conference); June 25-27, 1942; and May 11-17, 1943 (Trident Conference). Other conferences were held at Quebec from August 10-24, 1943 (Quadrant); and September 12-16, 1944 (Octagon.) These conferences allowed Churchill and Roosevelt to agree on commanders for major operations, allocate resources, discuss developing events, and develop the cooperative spirit that the Allied Armies operated under for the remainder of the war.
Major overseas conferences involving the two leaders and their military leaders included Casablanca, January 15-23, 1943, and Egypt, February 15, 1945. Many minor conferences occurred between representatives of the Western Allies.
After the German invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, Stalin’s Foreign Minister, Vyacheslav Molotov, was a frequent conference attendee. Other conferences were held in conjunction with Chinese Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek, at the Teheran Conference of November 28-26, 1943. In Iran Stalin, meeting Roosevelt and Churchill at the same time, demanded a second front by the end of the year. The conferences that all three leaders attended became known as a “Big Three” Conference.
The United Nations laid down the foundation for the International Monetary Fund at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire in July 1944. At Dumbarton Oaks, representatives of the Allies planned the framework for the postwar United Nations from August 21-October 7, 1944.
Soviet Premier Josef Stalin joined Churchill and Roosevelt at the Yalta Conference in the Crimea in February 1945. There they discussed the postwar world, defined Soviet and Western spheres of influence, and defined under what conditions the Soviets would enter the war against Japan.
At the Potsdam Conference in Germany, July 17 – August 2, 1945, new President Harry S Truman received news of the atomic bomb and revealed it to a nonchalant Stalin, who was already aware of the bomb through his spy, Klaus Fuchs, at Los Alamos.
Infrequent and harried Axis Conferences contrasted the Allied Conferences. After the Axis Pact in November 1940, German and Japanese delegates met infrequently and did not coordinate strategy as well as the Allies. Both Germany and Japan would hold their own conferences of their allies to legitimize their claims to territorial possessions.
The Allied Conferences were instrumental in developing a unified, cooperative command structure that easily adapted to events through skillful and constant diplomacy. Without the level of communication among the Allied leaders, the war would have lasted much longer.