Casablanca, French Morocco January 14, 1943

On this date in 1943 U.S. President Frank­lin D. Roose­velt, Brit­ish Prime Minis­ter Win­ston Chur­chill, and their respective Chiefs of Staff opened a ten-day strategy confer­ence in Casa­blanca, a sea­side resort half­way down the Moroccan coast in North­west Africa. (Casablanca was a signi­fi­cant venue, chosen to under­score the libera­tion of French North Africa in the wake of the ini­tial success of Oper­a­tion Torch.) Remark­able for his absence was the third Allied states­man, Joseph Stalin, whose armed forces struggled to evict “German occu­pa­tionists” (as the Soviet dic­ta­tor called them) along a thou­sand-mile-plus front deep inside his coun­try and who were, at that very moment, fixated on eradi­cating the Ger­man Sixth Army inside Stalin­grad (today’s Volgo­grad). In atten­dance also were rival generals Charles de Gaulle and Henri Giraud representing Free French forces.

The decisions reached and the plans made at the historic Casa­blanca Confer­ence signif­i­cantly affected future events in the Euro­pean Theater. For example, the “Big Two” agreed to open a second front, which Stalin had been insisting on for months. Opening a new front in the West would com­pel the Ger­mans to split their armed forces (concen­trated largely in the East) and defend them­selves in two places at once. Roose­velt, Chur­chill, and their mili­tary staffs settled on a landing in Sicily, Italy (Oper­a­tion Husky), in mid-1943 after ruling out a cross-Channel landing in France—Roose­velt’s initial posi­tion—because the hun­dreds of thou­sands of untested Amer­i­cans who were required to carry off a success­ful cross-Channel inva­sion were only now arriving in England, and they needed plenty of training and equipment.

Conference participants also agreed to intensify and “ration­alize” day and night bombing of Ger­many. Priority tar­gets would be sub­marine con­struction yards, air­craft fac­tories, trans­porta­tion net­works, oil plants, and other war-related indus­trial facil­i­ties. Acting on the “Casa­blanca Direc­tive” were Air Marshal Sir Arthur (“Bomber”) Harris, chief of British Bomber Com­mand, and Lt. Gen. Ira C. Eaker, chief of the U.S. Eighth Air Force based in Britain. Within days the Royal Air Force visited Berlin, its first raid on the Nazi capital since Novem­ber 7, 1941, while the Eighth Air Force carried out its first raid over Ger­many, bombing a naval base in the North German city of Wilhelmshaven and a submarine base at Emden.

The most historically important and provocative posi­tion the Big Two took was to insist on the uncondi­tional sur­render of the Axis powers and the prose­cu­tion of their leaders. The position was made public to news media at the end of the con­fer­ence. Roose­velt had earlier broached the idea, and Churchill warmed up to it when his war cabinet in London made no objec­tions to it. In explaining “uncondi­tional sur­render” to his Amer­ican radio audi­ence a month later, the presi­dent said: “In our uncom­pro­mising policy we mean no harm to the com­mon people of the Axis nations. But we do mean to im­pose punishment and retribution in full upon their guilty, barbaric leaders.”

Casablanca 1943: Inter-Allied Summit Meeting Between Roosevelt, Churchill, and Free French Leaders

Roosevelt and Churchill, Casablanca Conference, January 14, 1943Roosevelt, Churchill, and Combined Chiefs of Staff, Casablanca Conference, January 1943

Left: The Casablanca Conference, codenamed Symbol (Janu­ary 14–24, 1943), was a secret meeting of U.S. Presi­dent Franklin D. Roose­velt, British Prime Minister Winston Chur­chill, and their mili­tary opera­tions and planning staff (known as the Com­bined Chiefs of Staff) to advise on Allied stra­tegy for the next phase of the war in Europe. The first of the great Allied mid-war con­fer­ences and the first time a sitting presi­dent left the U.S. during war­time, the con­fer­ence agenda addressed the spe­cif­ics of tac­tical proce­dure, alloca­tion of resources, and the broader issues of diplo­matic policy. The debate and nego­ti­a­tions pro­duced what was known as the “Casa­blanca Declara­tion,” which included the demand for “uncon­di­tional sur­render” of the Axis powers along with their leaders. Roose­velt had borrowed the term “uncon­di­tional sur­render” from U.S. Civil War hero Gen. Ulysses S. Grant.

Right: Roosevelt and Churchill seated in front of a full comple­ment of Allied admirals, generals, and field marshals in the garden of the Anfa Hotel in a suburb of Casa­blanca, January 1943. Standing, front row, left to right: Commanding General of the U.S. Army Air Forces Henry “Hap” Arnold; Com­mander in Chief, United States Fleet and Chief of Naval Opera­tions Admiral Ernest J. King; U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Marshall; British Admiral of the Fleet Sir Dudley Pound; British Air Chief Marshal Charles Portal; and Gen. (later Field Marshal) Alan Brooke. Gen. Arnold con­tinued the Casa­blanca discus­sions in Chung­king, China, with Generalis­simo Chiang Kai-shek, which resulted in definite plans for offensive operations in the Pacific Theater.

Giraud, Roosevelt, de Gaulle, Churchill, Casablanca Conference, January 17, 1943Giraud–de Gaulle handshake, Casablanca Conference, January 17, 1943

Above: Rival leaders of the Free French forces Generals Henri Giraud (left) and Charles de Gaulle (sand­wiched between Roose­velt and Chur­chill) at the Casa­blanca Con­ference. Roose­velt and Chur­chill called for the official recog­ni­tion of a joint leader­ship of the Free French forces, notwith­standing the not­able ten­sion between five-star Gen. Giraud, a vain man who had pre­viously declared his fealty to Marshal Philippe Pétain’s World War II pro-German Vichy govern­ment but had switched loyalty to the Amer­i­cans who sup­ported his appoint­ment as High Com­mis­sioner of France in North Africa and commander-in-chief of the [French] Army of Africa after the Christ­mas Eve 1942 assas­si­na­tion of French Adm. François Darlan, and equally vain one-star Gen. de Gaulle, who enjoyed the support of resis­tance move­ments in metro­poli­tan France. Roose­velt and Chur­chill used their consider­able powers of persua­sion to have the two gene­rals “make nice” to each other, even staging this photo-op on Janu­ary 17, 1943, to demon­strate public cordi­ality between them. It lasted through just two hand­shakes and several camera clicks. Roose­velt mocked the two French gene­rals’ relation­ship as a “shot­gun marri­age.” Giraud and de Gaulle were co-presi­dents when the French Com­mit­tee of National Liber­at­ion (CFLN), the embry­onic govern­ment-in-waiting of liber­ated France, was set up in early June 1943, but de Gaulle even­tually squeezed Giraud off the CFLN and built a political power base that he headed.

Newsreel Scenes From the Casablanca Conference, January 14–24, 1943