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In November 1943, the Big Three leaders of the allied powers in world war II, Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, and Joesph Stalin, were scheduled to meet in person for the first time in Tehran.
When the Germans got wind of this, Hitler figured this would be a great opportunity to just kill all of his enemies at once.
Learn more about Operation Long Jump and Hitler’s plot to kill all of the allied leaders in one fell swoop, on this episode of Everything Everywhere Daily.
The allied nations in World War II didn’t come together as a fully formed alliance immediately. It took time.
In 1939, Britain declared war on Germany after their invasion of Poland.
The Soviets had a non-aggression pact with Germany, which I went over in a previous episode, and they didn’t go to war with Germany until Germany invaded in 1941.
Once the Soviets were involved, they formed a tenuous alliance with the British.
It wasn’t until December of 1941 that the United States joined after they were attacked by the Japanese, and then the Germans decided to unilaterally declare war on the US.
Throughout 1942, all of the allies were basically just trying to hang on. The Soviets were doing their best to survive the German invasion. The Americans were mobilizing and building up their military. It wasn’t until November of 1942 that they were finally able to put troops on the ground in North Africa. The British were kept busy fighting off the Germans in North Africa as well as trying to defend their positions in their colonies.
By 1943 the tide was starting to turn. The Soviets had stopped the Germans as Stalingrad. All of the Axis forces in North Africa had been withdrawn. The American’s began retaking islands from the Japanese in the Pacific, and the British and the Americans landed and took Sicily.
There really was no unified strategy between the western allies and the Soviets at this point. They just happened to be fighting the same enemy in different places.
So the allies decided that in late November 1943 the leaders of the three powers would come together to meet in person to discuss the future of the war, and also to begin talking about post-war plans.
The problem was where would they meet? Stalin and Churchill couldn’t very well travel across Europe which was controlled by Germany. Also, Stalin was reluctant to fly anywhere. FDR was in a wheelchair which didn’t make it easy for him to travel long distances during a war. Churchill was pretty much up for whatever.
The first proposed location was in Cairo, which was controlled by the British, but Stalin declined. The next proposed locations were in Baghdad and Basra in Iraq, but Stalin declined that as well.
They finally settled on meeting in Tehran, the capital city of Iran, with the actual meeting taking place inside the Soviet embassy.
Here I should briefly note the often-overlooked history of Iran in the Second World War.
They were invaded in 1941 by a joint Soviet-British invasion force. It wasn’t so much that Iran was allied with Germany as they just happened to have been the victim of bad geography. Iran offered a route for American lend-lease equipment to reach the Soviet Union via the Persian Corridor to Soviet Azerbaijan, and the British didn’t want the Germans to get a foothold in the Middle East by turning south in the Caucuses while they were in the Soviet Union. If they did that, they could disrupt the oil supply and threaten Cairo from the east.
The invasion was a pretty small affair as battles in the Second World War went and it was over in a week. It resulted in Iran being removed as a potential threat to the allies. It also resulted in the abdication of Reza Shah Pahlavi and his replacement by his son, the Crown Prince Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, which was the source of all sorts of problems 35 years later.
But that is a story for another episode.
A meeting like the Tehran Conference was obviously going to require a massive amount of security given who was attending.
If you remember back to my episode on the USS William D. Porter, the unluckiest ship in WWII, there was a small armada that escorted FDR across the Atlantic on the way to Tehran.
The problem arose sometime in October 1943 when the Germans deciphered a communique from the US Navy which let them know that the three leaders were going to be meeting in Tehran.
This information was passed all the way up the German chain of command to Hitler himself, who decided to make an attempt to assassinate all three of the allied leaders. The organization of the plan was given to Ernst Kaltenbrunner, who was truly one of the worst Nazis, and that is saying a lot.
The person who was tasked with carrying out this mission, known as Operation Long Jump, was Hitler’s favorite commando, Otto Skorzeny.
If you can, go and do a search for Otto Skorzeny, because he looks like someone you would cast in a movie as a Nazi villain. Mainly because he had a massive scar on his face that he received while fencing when he was younger.
Otto Skorzeny is an interesting enough character that warrants his own future episode. Suffice it to say he went from being put on trial for Nazi war crimes, to working for the Israeli Mossad. Wrap your head around that.
The Germans began to organize the mission with an SS team in Copenhagen and they also began to coordinate their large number of spy assets located in Iran. It is estimated that the Germans may have had as many as 400 agents operating in Tehran at the time.
The problem was, it turned out German communications were about as secure as the US Navy. The Soviets had many spies of their own working behind enemy lines. One of them was an NKVD agent by the name of Nikolai Kuznetsov.
He was undercover in Ukraine posing as a lieutenant in the German military named Paul Siebert. He overheard a drunk SS officer talking about the plot to kill Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill and passed the information on to the Soviets.
Another Soviet operative named Gevork Vartanian was operating undercover in Iran. Vartanian and his group had already identified hundreds of Nazi operatives in Iran who had been rounded up by the Soviets.
His network discovered a team of six German radio operators that parachuted into Iran near the city of Qom. They tailed them to Tehran where they set up in a safe house that was run by a German operative.
From there they began sending radio messages back to Germany.
What they didn’t know was that all of their messages were being intercepted and decrypted by the Soviets.
What the Soviets learned is that a second group of Germans, led by Otto Skorzeny himself were soon to be parachuted into Iran, and this group was going to conduct the actual attack.
With the strike team soon to arrive, the Soviets rounded up the radio operators and forced them at gunpoint to radio Berlin to tell them that they were discovered and that the plot had been exposed. That was done and Operation Long Jump was canceled.
The interesting thing is that prior to the conference, the Soviets told the American and British security teams about what they had discovered.
Both the Americans and the British didn’t believe the Soviets because they didn’t trust their intelligence services.
Even after the war ended, there has been a great deal of disagreement about if any of this ever even happened.
Skorzeny denied the story after the war, saying that the idea was brought up to Hitler, but Skorzeny said it was not feasible because the Soviets had destroyed the German spy network in Iran.
Other researchers who went through Nazi documents after the war also said that Operation Long Jump probably never happened.
However, aides to both Churchill and Roosevelt did confirm that the Soviets warned them of the plot at the time of the Tehran Conference.
Roosevelt himself joked to the press while in Tehran, “In a place like Tehran there are hundreds of German spies, probably, all around the place, I suppose it would make a pretty good haul if they could get all three of us going through the streets.”
Documents released from Soviet archives show that the Soviets did in fact take action on the plot and several books have been written since the end of the Cold War document the plot, and some of them came from western sources.
In 1984, Gevork Vartanian was named a Hero of the Soviet Union for his efforts during the war.
Nikolai Kuznetsov was killed in action in 1944, but his full war records are still classified and are not scheduled to be released until 2025.
Many researchers now think that the Nazi government purposely didn’t record or destroyed any records about the operation because it would be evidence of war crimes.
Either way, Operation Long Jump never came to fruition. However, it is interesting to think just what would have happened if it came to pass. The final outcome of the war might not have changed, but it may have gone much longer, and the rest of the 20th century would have been radically different without three of the men how helped define it.
Everything Everywhere Daily is an Airwave Media Podcast.
The associate producers are Thor Thomsen and Peter Bennett.
Today’s review comes from listener Bella over at PodcastRepublic. They write:
Great information and the perfect length because you can listen to one in a car trip or multiple in a row when going for a walk. I like to think it makes me smarter too through osmosis! Only time will tell….
Thank you, Bella! I have just one small correction for you. This isn’t learning by osmosis. This is a direct connection to your brain via your ear canal. This is the really hard stuff.
Remember, if you leave a review or send in a question, you too can have it read on the show.