Contributor: C. Peter Chen
ww2dbaseWith the location chosen to (rather prematurely) celebrate the success of Operation Torch, Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, and other executives met at Casablanca, Morocco, to discuss the next phase of the World War. Some of the topics discussed include how to handle the German submarine threat in the Atlantic, how to distribute the ships, aircraft, and troops among the various theaters, and how to handle the next phase of the European invasion.
ww2dbaseIn regards to the last point, the British wanted to expand operations in the Mediterranean, attacking Europe against its southern "soft underbelly". Roosevelt, with the recommendations of George Marshall and Ernest King, wanted to invade across the English Channel and the to shift more resources to the Pacific to press on the attacks against Japanese holdings in the South Pacific. As the British and US military officers worked on the details for their superiors, the British were able to present a more comprehensive plan, while the Americans' proposal for an invasion in France left many questions unanswered. This could be partially attributed to the fact that Churchill had brought a full staff of planners with him, while Marshall, per Roosevelt's instructions, brought only five advisers. The smaller team meant that they had less human resources to meet conference demands, and they were also generally less experienced than their British counterparts, who had been conducting a war actively, as opposed to only in theory, since Sep 1939. Roosevelt would ultimately comply with Churchill's insistence on an invasion of southern Europe, with Italy as the chosen target, although Roosevelt was able to convince Churchill to expand operations in Burma that would aid Chiang Kaishek's position in China.
ww2dbaseFor Burma, Roosevelt also agreed to provide the British with all the escorts and landing crafts the British may need in their operations there. Partially this agreement was part of the vision the US had for Burma, but at the same time Roosevelt also wanted to embarrass Churchill as if saying the British were not committing enough resources against Japan. It is also interesting to note that the resources Roosevelt offered were ships and landing crafts the Americans could not use anyway due to logistical problems.
ww2dbaseAt Casablanca, Roosevelt announced that the Axis powers must surrender unconditionally to the Allies, announced without prior consultation with his British counterpart. "Peace can come to the world only by the total elimination of German and Japanese war power," announced Roosevelt at the joint press conference ten days after this conference. "The elimination of Germany, Japanese, and Italian war power means the unconditional surrender by Germany, Italy, and Japan." Churchill seconded by noting that "design, purpose, and unconquerable will [will be applied] to enforce unconditional surrender upon the criminals who have plunged the world into war." In part, this insistence for a total victory was announced to prevent Stalin from seeking a separate peace treaty with Germany, ensuring that Germany would continue to fight on the Russian front until the end of the war. Although this was meant to put pressure on the Nazi government, the declaration was actually a blow to the organized German resistance that aimed to overthrow Adolf Hitler. The insistence on the total elimination of Germany meant the western Allies would refuse to sponsor any plans to establish a replacement German government and negotiate surrender terms with the new leaders.
ww2dbaseAt this conference, US General Dwight Eisenhower also spent time with Roosevelt alone. "This was one of several intimate and private conversations I had with Mr. Roosevelt during the war", he said. "His optimism and buoyancy, amounting almost to lightheartedness, attributed to the atmosphere of adventure attached to the Casablanca expedition." In Eisenhower's memoirs, Roosevelt and the general discussed whether France could regain international prestige, progress of the war in North Africa, and the future cross-Channel invasion on continental Europe. Eisenhower had a chance to meet with Churchill in private as well, who promised him that he had not abandoned the idea of a cross-Channel attack, but he did not think the time was right just yet.
ww2dbaseDuring the meeting, Roosevelt and Churchill took the opportunity to do some sightseeing as well, though these trips gave their security details some real nervous times. Donald Bennett, a low-ranking United States Army officer at the time, was one of the many who looked after the leaders' safety. "I was flying up at the front of the column watching the road ahead,... an announcement came over the radio that our 'wards' had stopped out in the middle of nowhere", Bennett recalled. "I, of course, imagined the worst, that security had been breached and the convoy had been attacked by surprise. As I circled in, I saw, to my utter amazement, the Big Two just loitering by the side of the road, indulging in a picnic.... [T]hey scared the crap out of all of us with that little stop".
ww2dbaseAfter the conference, Marshall and King made a stop at Algiers where Eisenhower was based. King, in particular, enthusiastically welcomed Eisenhower's aggressive advances in North Africa. "We've seen what happens when commanders sit down and wait for the enemy to attack. Keep slugging!" he told the general.
ww2dbaseThe conference at Casablanca was code named Symbol, and it was so aptly named in hindsight as it was an event that marked the completion of transition of the title of leading world power from the United Kingdom to the United States. The process had begun with the US's participation in WW1. In Casablanca in 1943, with US stretching its might thousands of miles across both oceans on both fronts, the new world power was, if not clear before, heavily relied upon in the Allies brotherhood. This conference would also be the last time that Churchill was able to dictate the direction of the alliance, and according to Dan van der Vat it was "the last time a British prime minister swayed an US president over anything much more serious than the menu at a state dinner". After Casablanca, the US would start to act as the senior partner in the alliance.
Donald Bennett, Honor Untarnished
Dwight Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe
Anthony Read and David Fisher, The Fall of Berlin
Dan van der Vat, The Pacific Campaign
Casablanca Conference Interactive Map
Casablanca Conference Timeline
|13 Jan 1943||Casablanca Conference between Roosevelt and Churchill began.|
|24 Jan 1943||The Casablanca Conference ended with the announcement of a requirement for unconditional surrender from Germany to end the war.|
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Captain Henry P. Jim Crowe, Guadalcanal, 13 Jan 1943