Churchill's 1942 summit meeting with Stalin

The overwhelming majority of the fighting to defeat Nazi Germany was done by the Soviet Union.   It lost more soldiers at one battle, Stalingrad, than England and America did in the whole war.

Unfortunately, this doesn't quite fit the American vision that World War II was a battle for "freedom".   Russia, after all, was a totalitarian state that had already murdered far more people than Nazi Germany even before 1941.  By 1949 far more people were living under the rule of totalitarian governments than in 1939.   Millions more would be murdered, particularly in China.  Indeed, far more people would be slaughtered in political mass murder after World War II than before the war.

The alliance with a regime that was even more murderous than Nazi Germany was a troubled affair.  It was made even more troublesome by the bad faith of England and America in keeping promises to Stalin.

  • The west repeatedly broke its very specific promise to open a second front in Europe in 1942, and when that turned out to be a lie, it made an even more emphatic promise for a second front in 1943.  That promise was also broken..

  • The west promised air support to the Soviet armies during the battle of Stalingrad in late 1942, but failed to deliver.

  • The west also cut off promised aid to the Soviet Union during the decisive battle of Stalingrad, sometimes taking the promised aid for their own causes.

These lies and military errors would have grim consequences.  The failure to create a second front until 1944 would guarantee eastern Europe would become part of a Soviet empire.   It would breed deep distrust of the west in the minds of  Soviet leaders, which set the stage for a Third World War, the Cold War, that would last for 45 long years after 1945.


Throughout the early months of 1942 the Kremlin had desperately sought the active military involvement of British and American forces in Western Europe.  In April 1942, Roosevelt invited Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov to Washington specifically to discuss the creation of a second front in Europe.    After arriving at the White House on May 29, Molotov discussed with Roosevelt the subject of a Second Front at meeting at the White House on May 30, 1942.

According to the official State Department records, Molotov asked Roosevelt directly:

The Soviets wished the Anglo-American combination to land sufficient combat troops on the [European] continent to drive off 40 German divisions from the Soviet front. ... Could we undertake such offensive action as would draw off 40 German divisions which would be, to tell the truth, distinctly second-rate outfits?  If the answer should be in the affirmative, the war would be decided in 1942.  If negative, the Soviets would fight on alone, doing their best, and no man would expect more from them than that.  He had not, Mr. Molotov added, received any positive answer in London. Mr. Churchill had proposed that he should return through London on his homeward journey from Washington, and had promised Mr. Molotov a more concrete answer on his second visit.  Mr. Molotov admitted he realized that the British would have to bear the brunt of the action if a Second Front were created, but he also was cognizant of the role the United States plays and what influence this country exerts in questions of major strategy.  Without in any way minimizing the risks entailed by a Second Front action this summer, Mr. Molotov declared his government wanted to know in frank terms what position we take on the question of a Second Front, and whether we were prepared to establish one.  He requested a straight answer.

The difficulties, Mr. Molotov urged, would not be any less in 1943. The chances of success were actually better at present while the Russians still have a solid front.  'If you postpone your decision,' he said, 'you will have eventually to bear the brunt of the war, and if Hitler becomes the undisputed master of the continent, next year will unquestionably be tougher than this one.'

The President then put to General Marshall the query whether developments were clear enough so that we could say to Mr. Stalin that we are preparing a Second Front. 'Yes,' replied the General. The President then authorized Mr. Molotov to inform Mr. Stalin that we expect the formation of a Second Front this year.” (Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1942, vol. III. Pp 576-577). That Molotov left Washington fully expectant that the U.S. would open a Second Front in 1942 is also recorded in the memoirs of Stalin's personal translator.  See Valentin M. Berezhkov, At Stalin's Side. Trans. Sergei V. Mikheyev (Birch Lane Press ), pp. 244f.)

Thus, as early as May 30, Roosevelt had expressly promised a Second Front to relieve pressure from the Russo-German front in 1942. Two days after the May 30th meeting, on June 1st, Roosevelt repeated to Molotov his promise to open a Second Front in 1942. He was so emphatic that he even suggested that the Soviets reduce their aid requests by 50% so that it could be more effective, stating that We hoped and expected to open a Second Front in 1942, but we could progress more rapidly only with more ships. The Chiefs of Staff had therefore suggested that, in order to speed up the opening of a Second Front, the Soviet Government, with this in mind, should ... consider reducing its lend-lease requirements from 4,100,000 tons to 2,000,000 tons.” (Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1942, vol. III. Pp 582.)

An American official press statement (issued June 11, 1942) to this effect was prepared for release upon Molotov's safe arrival in Moscow: “In the course of the conversations [between the President and Molotov] full understanding was reached with regard to the urgent tasks of creating a Second Front in Europe in 1942.” (Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1942, vol. III. Pp 593-594)  A similar Soviet press release was released in Moscow.

Unfortunately, Roosevelt would decide not to keep this promise.  Instead, he agreed with a plan promoted by Churchill to invade, not Europe, but North Africa.


In the summer of 1942 Winston Churchill went to Moscow to inform Stalin of the change in plans.    Unfortunately, he compounded the problem of western credibility by making two new promises,  the certainty of a second front in Europe in 1943 and the promise of deploying western air power near Stalingrad.  Both these new solemn promises would also not be kept.

According to the official transcript of the meeting Churchill said on August 12th in a meeting with Stalin, Harriman, and others:

The British and American governments were preparing for a very great operation in 1943. For this purpose a million American troops are now scheduled to reach the United Kingdom at their point of assembly in the Spring of 1943, making an expeditionary force of 27 divisions to which the British Government were prepared to add 21 divisions. Nearly half of this force would be armored” (Harriman Papers, container 162, Library of Congress- Manuscript Division, Meeting at the Kremlin on Wednesday, August 12, 1942 at 7 PM)


The failure to open a Second Front in Europe was, however, not the only promise to the Soviet Union that was not kept by her allies. During the August 12, 1942 meeting between Churchill and Stalin in Moscow (the very same meeting where Churchill informed Stalin conclusively that there would be no Second Front in Northern France in 1942), Churchill first floated the idea of an Allied Air Force sent to the southern Russian front for use in the defense of the Caucasus in what would come to be known as Operation Velvet. (Harriman Papers, container 162, Library of Congress- Manuscript Division, Meeting at the Kremlin on Wednesday, August 12, 1942 at 7 PM) Western units could, therefore, immediately take part in the fight on the allied side.

On October 9, 1942, Churchill sent a message to Stalin stating that he and President Roosevelt had both ordered the creation of an allied air force (Velvet) for deployment in the Caucasus from the Egyptian theater, that more fighter aircraft were going to be on their way to Russia via the Persian Gulf, and finally that convoys via the Northern supply route would be discontinued as a result of naval escorts being pulled away for Operation Torch in North Africa (implying that Churchill thought TORCH was a better use of resources than supplying the Soviet Union with needed aid). Churchill was clear that Allied air support in the Caucasus was completely contingent upon Allied success in Egypt and French North Africa, and that British aircraft could not be diverted to Russia until Egypt was secure from German armies under Rommel. (Churchill, The Hinge of Fate, p. 579.)

There was a chill in communications between the West and the Soviet Union. Stalin replied only, “I received your message of October 9. Thank you.” (Churchill, The Hinge of Fate, pp. 579-560.)

Thee days later, on October 12,1942, the American Ambassador in the Soviet Union Admiral Standley sent a message from President Roosevelt to Foreign Commissar Molotov repeating the offer to send Western air units to the Caucasus front, writing:

I am examining every possibility of increasing the number of fighter planes to be sent to the Soviet Union... In October we will ship to you 276 combat planes and everything possible is being done to expedite these deliveries” (Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1942, vol. III. Pp 733-734.)

Roosevelt blamed the heretofore lack of promised American support on logistics, but a month later, on November 15, 1942, in a conversation with General Bradley, concerning a survey of air fields in the Caucasus relating to Operation Velvet, Molotov pointed out that:

The question of air assistance in the Caucasus had been discussed a long time ago and what was now wanted was the arrival of the planes and crews. It was disappointing that instead of the planes a survey was now to be made.” (Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1942, vol. III. Pp 660-661.)

Because of the delay in Egypt, however, and assorted delays on the American side, by December 1942, the plans were allowed to lapse and the air units were never sent. (Feis, Churchill, Roosevelt, Stalin, p.97.)


Almost immediately after the invasion of the Soviet Union by Hitler, the Western democracies began to ship aid to the Soviet Union. By mid 1941, American support had been officially confirmed through Lend-Lease. Unfortunately, like other aspects of the war, the Western allies did not hold up their end of the bargain. Aid from the West to the Soviet Union was patchy. In June 1942, President Roosevelt actually suggested to the Soviet Union that a reduction in American aid would help bring about the Second Front he already knew wasn't possible that year. Britain, by its own initiative, canceled convoys to Russia along the northern route in the Fall of 1942, during the beginning of the Battle of Stalingrad, arguing that the resources were better suited for their own operations in North Africa. When aid did make it through, it was often not in the quantities that had been agreed upon, was of inferior quality to the materials used by the Western allies, or both.

During Molotov's visit to Washington in May and June 1942, President Roosevelt attempted to get Molotov to agree to a reduction in aid in order to speed up the creation of a Second Front he knew he wouldn't be able to create that year. During his meeting on June 1st, Roosevelt said:

Roosevelt and the American Chiefs of Staff had already concluded previously in London that there would not be enough shipping to transport sufficient troops to England to open a Second Front in 1942. (Sherwood, Roosevelt and Hopkins, p. 535.) Roosevelt attempted to get the Soviets to agree to a reduction in aid, promising as a reward, a Second Front he knew he most likely would not be able ro provide.

Churchill repeated this line of reasoning on July 17, 1942, in a message to Stalin. He argued:

“We do not think it right to risk our Home Fleet [protecting the convoys]... If one or two of our very few most powerful battleships were to be lost or even seriously damaged while Tirpitz or her consorts, soon to be joined by Scharnhorst, remained in action, the whole command of the Atlantic would be lost... and above all, the great convoys of American troops across the ocean, rising presently to as many as 80,000 in a month, would be prevented and [so would] the building up of a really strong Second Front.” (Churchill, The Hinge of Fate, p 269.)

The Convoys, which had previously average 1-2 a month, would cease for the time being.

In August 1942, during Churchill's visit to Moscow, Stalin commented on the lack of supplies the Soviet Union had received from the West since the inception of aid a year prior:

As to supplies, he [Stalin] said that the Soviet Government were grateful for supplies received and those promised for the future. But he must say that, although many plans had been drawn up, several of these had had to be abandoned.” (Harriman Papers, container 162, Library of Congress- Manuscript Division, Minutes of a meeting held in the Kremlin, Moscow on Thursday, August 13th, 1942, at 11.15 p.m.)

Churchill responded that many of the previous convoys went through well, and that he had hoped to send more along the northern route above Scandinavia. He also told Stalin that the supplies would be, in some way, disrupted by Operation Torch, which he had first informed Stalin of the night before. (Harriman Papers, container 162, Library of Congress- Manuscript Division, Minutes of a meeting held in the Kremlin, Moscow on Thursday, August 13th, 1942, at 11.15 p.m.)

Stalin responded that, “The promises which were made ought to be carried out. Four million, fur hundred thousand tons had been promised but the program was falling behind.” (Harriman Papers, container 162, Library of Congress- Manuscript Division, Minutes of a meeting held in the Kremlin, Moscow on Thursday, August 13th, 1942, at 11.15 p.m.)

By September 1942, Great Britain decided to try another convoy, P.Q. 18. It was, however, badly damaged; less than half of its cargo made it to Russia. As a result, British leadership decided to stop the next convoy. (Feis, Herbert, Churchill, Roosevelt, Stalin: The War They Waged and the Peace They Sought (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press 1957) p. 84.)Convoys would not resume until early 1943. Churchill thought he should tell Stalin immediately. Roosevelt, however, did not think it was was appropriate just yet. He wrote to Churchill on September 27, 1942:

I agree with you that [we must] give up P.Q. 19 ... I can see nothing to be gained by notifying Stalin sooner than is necessary, and indeed much to be lost. Furthermore, I believe that within ten days we could come to a final conclusion about the air force in Trans-Caucasia, regarding which Stalin would be notified at the same time.” (Churchill, The Hinge of Fate, p. 573.)

Churchill sent the previously mentioned October 9, 1942 telegram to Stalin informing him that the aid would be cut off until 1943. Aid would be sent again, later in the war, but as Andrei Gromyko, a former Soviet Foreign Minister, noted in his memoirs:

The truth was, that during the first year after Hitler's attack, at the worst time for the Soviet Union, the USA sent us practically nothing. Only later, when it was clear that the USSR could stand its ground, and on it's own, did the deliveries gradually begin to flow.” (Gromyko, Andrei, Memories (London: Hutchinson Press 1989) p.43.)

When the Soviet Union was supposed to receive supplies,they were sometimes diverted back to American or British forces. In July 1942, President Roosevelt asked Stalin to allow the diversion of 40 bombers scheduled to be delivered to Russia to Egypt. (Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1942, vol. III. Pp 606-607.) Stalin agreed. (Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1942, vol. III. Pp 609-610.)

During a visit to Moscow in September 1942 by Wendell Willkie, a special representative of President Roosevelt, Stalin complained that 150 Air Cobras (fighter aircraft) destined for the Soviet Union were intercepted by Great Britain, and diverted elsewhere. The British Ambassador, also present at the meeting, said only that he was fully aware of the diversion and that Britain believed those aircraft would better help the allied effort elsewhere. (Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1942, vol. III. Pp 643.)

The Second Secretary Thompson of the American Embassy in the Soviet Union, in a dispatch to Secretary of State Cordell Hull also stated that after the dinner with Mr. Willkie, Stalin pulled Secretary Thompson aside and “he indicated that he was unconvinced by the British Ambassador's rely and insisted that the diversion of planes intended for the Soviet union was unjustifiable.” (Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1942, vol. III. Pp 725-726.)