The Tehran Conference during World War 2 was a hugely important meeting, and perhaps more importantly, a hugely dangerous proposition. Having all those leaders together in one place risked utter catastrophe if something went wrong, such as assassination (as the Russians erroneously insist almost happened with Operation Long Jump) or something more mundane like a plane crash or other disaster en-route, a local riot, a crazed gunman or fame-seeker, or any other of a thousand things that threaten world leaders when they travel.

What preparations went into making the conference secure? Tehran was controlled by Britain at the time as I recall (although I could be wrong about that), but surely the Americans and Russians did their own security sweeps of the area? How much advance time did they take to get things in order for the conference, and how big were the advance teams? Were new facilities needed, either for support/security or for the conference itself? Did the various nations collaborate in their preparations, or did each have their own security details and procedures?

Can anyone shed any light, ideally a detailed timetable but any information would be appreciated, about the work that went into making the Tehran Conference secure and efficient, once the various leaders had agreed to have it?

  • There were probably thousands of Soviet military police guarding the conference. Oct 10, 2014 at 17:22
  • The main security concern for something like this is not an assassination, it is spontaneous riot by some angry local faction. Oct 10, 2014 at 17:27
  • @TylerDurden I don't know why you're fixating on that "assassination" line, when that's not what I'm asking about. Local riots, foreign and domestic espionage/surveillance, random crazy snipers, hell even just petty street crime and theft, all would be of concern with three VIPs like that walking around in unfamiliar territory. A modern President can't buy a cup of coffee without shutting down DC and redirecting the Sixth Fleet. I'm asking about the security of the conference in general. And per your previous comment: how many "thousands", why only "Soviet", and what do you mean by "probably"?
    – Nerrolken
    Oct 10, 2014 at 17:41
  • 1
    Related: history.stackexchange.com/questions/10905/…
    – Tom Au
    Mar 31, 2015 at 20:35

1 Answer 1


Most information is from John Grigg's "1943". This book details the politics of World War II, specifically during 1943, in great detail. The book is highly critical of Churchill, but contains good answers to the question you have asked.

From the front of the book

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data Grigg, John. 1943, the victory that never was. Bibliography: p. Includes index. 1. World War, 1939-1945--Diplomatic History. I. Title. D748.G76 1980 940.54'012 79-22417

From page 175:

The conference was agreed to while at Quebec and the details were settled by a meeting in Moscow. This meeting was in August of 1943. The Tehran conference was in late November 1943. So there was a little over 2 months to figure out everything.

The first obstacle was getting everyone together.

Until a late stage there were doubts that the conference would ever take place. Teheran was as far outside Russia as Stalin would consent to go, but Roosevelt was reluctant to travel such a distance from Washington

Stalin tried to wriggle out of attending it himself, suggesting that Molotov go

President Roosevelt had his obligations as president, namely the signing of bills. It was only barely possible for bills to be transported to the area and back to the District of Columbia within the time period allotted by the Constitution of the United States.

Stalin simply did not want to leave Russia. After the victory in the civil war, Stalin maintained his power via cruelty and his cult of personality. For example, the critic Trotsky was executed at Stalin's orders after he fled the Soviet Union. Thanks to Khrushchev's secret speech given after Stalin's death, the political climate in the Soviet Union finally allowed criticism of Stalin's methods. Stalin did not want to attend the conference, because there was a very real chance that he would no longer be in power after returning to the Soviet Union. By using force to maintain his power, it required the near constant presence of Stalin himself to maintain his position. Although attempting a coup while he was present would be suicide, it would be possible while Stalin was absent. When you take into consideration what a cruel leader Stalin was, it is easy to gain backing for a coup. It would be hard for a coup to result in someone in power that was actually worse than Stalin.

I selected one passage from the book to support the notion of Stalin's barbarity, although many exist in just this text. From page 33

1942 was the only year of his wartime premiership when Churchill's position seemed less than secure. Despite his immense personal reputation, he was more vulnerable than either of his two partners in the exclusive club known as the Big Three. Roosevelt, after the 1940 Presidential election, was virtually irremovable except by death--until the completion of his unprecedented third term. And Stalin, quite simply, was irremovable except by death, having no elections to bother about and having either killed all possible rivals or reduced them to a state of quivering terror.

I can find no evidence that Churchill objected to Teheran as the conference venue.

Churchill had traveled to Cairo on the HMS Renown from Plymouth. This ship was actually a World War I battlecruiser, but saw no combat according to Wikipedia. This ship was likely one of the more secure methods for Chuchill to reach Cairo. It certainly would be more secure from air attack than a civilian boat, although it was still vulnerable to German U-Boats.

It is more likely that security was achieved for Churchill by spreading disinformation of his whereabouts and through the use of numerous doubles. This isn't from the book, and is mostly speculation of my part.

Roosevelt traveled on the legendary USS Iowa to Cairo. This was one of the largest battleships to ever see combat.

Roosevelt and Churchill traveled to Teheran via air. They took of from Cairo. This would have been relatively safe at the time, given that the German forces had been expelled from North Africa. It is again likely that numerous decoys and disinformation would have been used to achieve security. History leaves us no concrete information as to the Luftwaffe's ability in the airspace at the time. But a lone transport would have been an appealing target. It was likely simply mixed in with various other routing flights from Cairo to Tehran.

From "Spearhead for the Blitzkrieg", the following quote on page 97

Once the Allies had built up their air forces, it became impossible for the Luftwaffe to establish air supremacy

On the next page

To protect army units from air attack, the available fighters were shared among the major army formations. Usually a fighter Geschwader with three or four Gruppen operated within the command zone of each group. It came under the command of the air fleet or air corps headquarters responsible for air operations in that zone. During friendly or enemy offensives, or if the air situation became critical, these forces sometimes received temporarily assigned reinforcements. After 1943, however, this was usually only possible at the expense of other sectors on the front.

The "air forces" of the United States at the time were just the Army. There was no separate USAF during World War II. Operation Torch had allowed the ground forces to push out the German forces of North Africa in late 1942.

This source indicates that the Luftwaffe was barely able to operate in sufficient capacity to support the German ground forces by 1943. Even with good intelligence, conducting a mission to intercept the flight of a high profile target like Churchill would have been difficult.

From the front of that book, no cataloging data provided.

ISBN 1-85367-241-6

Once in Tehran, actual security was easy. From page 178 of "1943"

Persia was, like Egypt, nominally independent, but in fact under foreign control. The twenty-two-year-old Shah had been brought to the throne in 1941, when his pro-German father had been forced to abdicate. The country was then occupied by British and Russian troops, and later American troops as well.

The army from each respective delegation was present in the country already. They would have conducted preliminary assessments of the security of the air, as well as provided intelligence to the normal security details of each delegate.

Furthermore, specific consideration was given to Roosevelt's security

Churchill stayed at the British legation and Stalin at the Russian embassy, which were close together. But the American legation, where Roosevelt was at first accommodated--having declined the Shah's offer of a palace--was about a mile away. Stalin then suggested that Roosevelt move to the Russian embassy, for the sake of security, and after some hesitation Roosevelt agreed.

Roosevelt actually stayed at the Russian embassy so he could be nearby and for security reasons. Given the attitude of the US & USSR in the Cold War towards one another, this seems almost like a fantasy. But Stalin deeply needed the military and materiel support of the Allies. Regardless of any political or ideological differences, it was in his best interest to be friendly toward Roosevelt. Any possible harm coming to Roosevelt by any source would jeopardize the American support for the Soviet Union. Without the steady supplies coming from the US, the Eastern front would have been much more difficult battle to win.

Of course I must note that on the same page can be found this quote:

For Stalin it was an early triumph, not least in that it put Roosevelt under twenty-four-hour surveillance by the N.K.V.D.

The NKVD was the police of the Communist party at the time. Roosevelt an his entourage were not fools. They likely restricted there conversations at the time to matter's pertaining to the conference only.

  • Is that book really in such atrocious English? Or have you done a bad job of copying out the quotations? Allow me to add that this is a very interesting answer.
    – fdb
    Aug 15, 2016 at 23:01
  • I have quotes from 2 books. Could you please indicate the quote specifically? It is possible I made an error in transcription.
    – Eric Urban
    Aug 16, 2016 at 0:13
  • "...as Stalin consent..." "One the allies...." "Persian was..."
    – fdb
    Aug 16, 2016 at 8:24
  • 1
    Just transcription errors, thank you for pointing them out.
    – Eric Urban
    Aug 16, 2016 at 12:11

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