Casablanca, Morocco, North Africa · January 14, 1943

This date in 1943 saw the start of the ten-day Casablanca Con­fer­ence at a sea­side resort in Mo­roc­co between U.S. Presi­dent Franklin D. Roosevelt, Brit­ish Prime Minis­ter Winston Churchill, and their Combined Chiefs of Staff. Soviet leader Joseph Stalin had been in­vited to the sum­mit but reportedly told Roose­velt’s closest adviser that he had no time for small talk, pre­occu­pied as he was with the battle for the pos­ses­sion of Stalingrad (today’s Volgo­grad) on Ger­many’s Eastern Front.

Aside from an excur­sion to Mar­ra­kesh, the two West­ern leaders were all busi­ness. For one thing, they agreed on a com­bined bomber offen­sive against Ger­many that incor­po­rated the newly deployed U.S. Eighth Air Force in Britain. The U.S. would use preci­sion bombing by day, the British area bombing by night. Further­more, the leaders insisted on nothing less than un­con­di­tional sur­render by the three major Axis powers: Ger­many, Italy, and Japan. Chur­chill initi­ally feared that in­sisting on un­con­di­tional sur­ren­der would pro­long Ger­many’s willing­ness to fight on and dis­courage those ele­ments opposed to Hitler with­in the Ger­man armed forces, but the prime minis­ter’s own cabi­net was on board with the con­cept of un­con­di­tional sur­render.

Later in 1943 the U.S., Britain, and the Soviet Union estab­lished the Euro­pean Advi­sory Com­mis­sion to draw up sur­render terms for Ger­many and work out occu­pa­tion arrange­ments for Ger­many and Aus­tria and the minor Axis players like Roma­nia, Hun­gary, and Bul­ga­ria. These plans were agreed to by the three heads of govern­ment at the Yalta and Pots­dam con­fer­ences in 1945.

Casa­blan­ca also saw Roose­velt and Chur­chill agree to punish Nazi war crim­i­nals. (The prin­ciple of post­war war crimes trials had been estab­lished by the leaders of nine occupied Euro­pean nations and China at the Inter-Allied Con­fer­ence in London twelve months earlier.) In the Pots­dam Decla­ra­tion, issued on July 26, 1945, from a Ber­lin sub­urb, the Allied heads of state extended the prin­ciple to in­clude Japan, whose leaders were fighting a losing war in the Pacific. The deci­sion at Pots­dam resulted in two sets of major inter­na­tional war crimes trials, one held in Nurem­berg, Germany, and the other in Tokyo, in which some of the most senior Axis figures were tried. The charges at their trials included two new concepts in inter­na­tional law: crimes against peace and crimes against humanity.

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

Roosevelt and Churchill, Casablanca, January 14, 1943Roosevelt, Churchill, and Combined Chiefs of Staff, Casablanca, 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, 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,” and what is per­haps its most historically pro­vo­ca­tive state­ment of purpose, “uncon­di­tional sur­render” of the Axis powers along with their crimi­nal leaders. Roose­velt had borrowed the term “uncon­di­tional sur­render” from U.S. Civil War hero Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, explaining to a radio audi­ence in Febru­ary 1943: “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 upon their guilty, barbaric leaders.”

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 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 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, January 17, 1943Giraud–de Gaulle handshake, Casablanca, January 17, 1943

Above: Rival leaders of the Free French forces Generals Henri Giraud (left) and Charles de Gaulle at the Casablanca Conference. In the wake of the initial success of Operation Torch, which eventually resulted in the defeat of Vichy French forces in North Africa, Roosevelt and Churchill called for the official recognition of a joint leadership of the Free French forces, notwithstanding the notable tension between the two Frenchmen during the talks. Roosevelt and Churchill used their considerable powers of persuasion to have the two French 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.

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