The Struggle for a Second Front
The year 1944 is loaded with danger. -- Winston Churchill to Franklin Roosevelt, October 27, 1943
Late on the evening of Armistice Day, November 11, 1943, Roosevelt and a handful of aides stole away from the White House and boarded the presidential yacht Potomac. At dawn the president's little craft lay alongside the massive battleship Iowa, anchored in Chesapeake Bay. A special rig hoisted the commander-in-chief up onto the Iowa's main deck. The dreadnought weighed anchor and headed out to the open sea. Eight days later the presidential party disembarked at Oran, in French North Africa. Roosevelt transferred to a specially fitted Army Air Corps Douglas C-54 transport plane, whimsically named "the Sacred Cow." His ultimate destination was Teheran and his first-ever meeting with Stalin. But the Sacred Cow first touched down at Cairo. It was not a stop that the president had originally wanted, and not one he anticipated with relish.
Just weeks earlier Churchill had warned Roosevelt that in the new phase of the war then emerging, when American might was at last beginning to weigh heavily in the scales, "[g]reat differences may develop between us." The first such difference had been over whether Roosevelt should meet Stalin alone, as the president wished. Churchill had muscled in and claimed a chair at the Teheran conference table. The prime minister then went further and insisted on a preliminary meeting between the two Western allies at Cairo before they confronted the Soviets at Teheran. Roosevelt had countered by suggesting that Soviet representatives as well as Chinese generalissimo Chiang Kai-shekshould attend the preparatory talks. But the Soviets, still at peace with Japan, refused to parlay with Chiang for fear of provoking Tokyo. Thus it was just Churchill, Roosevelt, and Chiang who sat down for dinner at Ambas-