Casablanca Conference Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

At the Casablanca Conference, British and American leaders drew up a blueprint for the Allied conduct of World War II in Europe and the Pacific, as well as establishing policies governing the conduct and conclusion of the war. The conference determined the course of Allied operations through the next two years.

Summary of Event

Late in 1942, after the defeat of the Axis forces at the Second Battle of El Alamein and after the Anglo-American invasion of northwest Africa, President Franklin D. Roosevelt suggested a meeting of the Allied leaders to plan further wartime strategy. Prime Minister Winston Churchill of the United Kingdom accepted, but Soviet premier Joseph Stalin declined, because the Battle of Stalingrad had just begun and he could not leave his country. The recently liberated town of Casablanca, in Morocco, was selected for the conference, which opened on January 14, 1943. [kw]Casablanca Conference (Jan. 14-24, 1943) [kw]Conference, Casablanca (Jan. 14-24, 1943) Casablanca Conference (1943) World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];Allied planning meetings Casablanca Conference (1943) World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];Allied planning meetings [g]Africa;Jan. 14-24, 1943: Casablanca Conference[00740] [g]Morocco;Jan. 14-24, 1943: Casablanca Conference[00740] [c]World War II;Jan. 14-24, 1943: Casablanca Conference[00740] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;Jan. 14-24, 1943: Casablanca Conference[00740] Churchill, Winston [p]Churchill, Winston;World War II diplomacy[World War 02 diplomacy] Roosevelt, Franklin D. [p]Roosevelt, Franklin D.;World War II diplomacy[World War 02 diplomacy] King, Ernest Marshall, George C. [p]Marshall, George C.;World War II Brooke, Alan Francis Gaulle, Charles de [p]Gaulle, Charles de;World War II Giraud, Henri Eisenhower, Dwight D. [p]Eisenhower, Dwight D.;World War II Alexander, Harold (first Earl Alexander of Tunis) Hopkins, Harry Stalin, Joseph [p]Stalin, Joseph;World War II diplomacy[World War 02 diplomacy]

Roosevelt was accompanied by his chief civilian adviser, Harry Hopkins, and by his two military advisers, General George C. Marshall, chief of staff of the U.S. Army, and Admiral Ernest King, U.S. chief of naval operations. Churchill arrived with his military and naval advisers, notably General Sir Alan Francis Brooke, chief of the British General Staff. The Allied leaders had no difficulty in agreeing upon a number of military matters, such as continuation of the bombing of Germany and the priority given to naval resources to transport supplies across the Atlantic, nor did they oppose each other on the French problem.

With the liberation of French Africa, the Allies had had to find a leader for the French. Instead of turning to General Charles de Gaulle, leader of the Free French forces, whom both Churchill and Roosevelt distrusted, they had selected General Henri Giraud as supreme French commander for North Africa. Considerably angered by this selection, de Gaulle had refused to have anything to do with Giraud or his government. At Casablanca, Roosevelt and Churchill invited de Gaulle to make peace with Giraud and named him commander with Giraud; a temporary reconciliation was reluctantly achieved.

The British and the Americans were less in accord when it came time to discuss future strategy for the war. The British wanted to continue fighting in the Mediterranean until a large number of troops could be concentrated for an invasion of France across the English Channel. Churchill hoped that Italy could be invaded and forced to surrender, which in turn would bring Turkey into the war on the Allied side and perhaps permit an invasion of the Balkans. In this way, he believed, Germany could be attacked through the “soft underbelly of Europe.” Maximum gains could be exploited with a minimum risk and without committing insufficient troops to a difficult struggle in France.

The Americans, particularly Marshall and King, opposed this plan. They viewed Mediterranean action as merely diversionary and said that the only way Germany could be brought to defeat was through a massive cross-Channel invasion. King was particularly opposed to the British strategy, and he threatened to divert landing-craft production to the war against Japan in the Pacific, which he believed should have the priority anyway. He was overruled, however, by Roosevelt on the basis of a 1940 agreement among the American chiefs of staff that in a two-front war, the European conflict should take priority.

Roosevelt agreed to a limited continuation of the Mediterranean war, and General Dwight D. Eisenhower was appointed supreme commander of the Allied forces in the Mediterranean. His deputy was the British commander, General Harold Alexander (later the first Earl Alexander of Tunis). Eisenhower and Alexander were told to plan an invasion of Sicily that would take place when the Axis Powers were driven out of North Africa. In the meantime, planning of the cross-Channel invasion proceeded.

Twelve decisions emerged from the conference, nine of them significant. These included strengthening the attacks on U-boats in the North Atlantic, increasing the strategic bombing of Germany, providing material support for Russia, launching a limited offensive in the Pacific by attacking Rabaul, opening up the Burma Road and supporting China, increasing air activities in the Chinese and Burmese regions, and stabilizing North Africa and invading Sicily. The Allies also agreed to plan for the expansion of the western front that would be brought about by the cross-Channel invasion, and they adopted a policy for the unconditional surrender of Germany, Italy, and Japan.

The most controversial decision made at Casablanca appeared to be impromptu. Roosevelt, who remembered the mistakes made by President Woodrow Wilson during World War I, wanted to send a clear message that the forms of government in the Axis countries were unacceptable, and their defeat and removal were significant as an objective of the Allies. He would frequently reiterate this position throughout the war. Thus, at a press conference held on January 24, the final day at Casablanca, Roosevelt announced that the “elimination of German, Japanese, and Italian war power means the unconditional surrender by Germany, Italy, and Japan.” He went on to say that he did not mean the destruction of the people of those countries but rather “the destruction of the philosophies which are based on conquest and the subjugation of other people.” Reportedly taken aback by this statement, Churchill nevertheless indicated his agreement.

Significance

The strategic decisions made at Casablanca set the stage for the Allied invasions of Sicily and Italy, the conduct of the war in Asia and Africa, and ultimately for the invasion of Normandy in Operation Overlord. Those decisions have sometimes been eclipsed, however, by discussion of the press conference held on the final day.

Critics of Roosevelt’s statement at the Casablanca Conference came to contend that requiring unconditional surrender hurt the Allied cause more than it helped. It indicated to the Axis peoples that nothing less than total defeat would be accepted and therefore prolonged the war and reduced the chances of resistance groups within those countries overthrowing the regimes in order to obtain reasonable concessions from the Allies. Furthermore, such critics maintained, Roosevelt’s statement established an idealistic goal that could be achieved only with great human suffering and that was not in accord with the realities of the conflict.

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Other scholars have disagreed, pointing out that the policy did not in fact undercut German resistance groups, which were simply not strong enough to succeed. Some historians have argued that the policy was unimportant to the Germans until late in the war, when it did provide some propaganda value. Ultimately, it allowed the Allies to defeat the Axis Powers “according to an accepted formula,” and although it did not allay Allied suspicions of one another, it lessened them to some extent. Casablanca Conference (1943) World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];Allied planning meetings

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Armstrong, Anne. Unconditional Surrender: The Impact of the Casablanca Conference on World War II. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1961. Analyzes the impact of the unconditional surrender policy on the conduct of the war and on the Germans.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Churchill, Winston S. The Second World War. Vol. 4: The Hinge of Fate. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1950. This volume includes Churchill’s memoirs of the Casablanca Conference.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Feis, Herbert. Churchill, Roosevelt, Stalin. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1967. Written by a distinguished diplomatic historian, this solid work analyzes the major events at the Casablanca Conference.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Haycock, D.J. Eisenhower and the Art of Warfare: A Critical Appraisal. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2004. Discussion of Eisenhower’s military career includes chapters on the Casablanca Conference, the operations arising from it, and Eisenhower’s relationship with General Marshall.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kimball, Warren F. The Juggler: Franklin Roosevelt as Wartime Statesman. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1991. Kimball places emphasis on Roosevelt’s personal diplomacy and sees Casablanca and unconditional surrender as a commitment of Russia to the Allied effort and a sense that the Anglo-Americans would run the show after the war.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sherwood, Robert E. Roosevelt and Hopkins. New York: Harper & Row, 1948. This work gives a thorough treatment of the Roosevelt polices from the perspective of a close adviser.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Smith, Gaddis. American Diplomacy During the Second World War. New York: Harper & Row, 1985. This work does not regard the statement of unconditional surrender as being particularly important.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wilt, Alan F. “The Significance of the Casablanca Decisions, January, 1943.” Journal of Military History 55 (October, 1991): 517-529. The author concludes that this meeting provided a realistic agenda for the Anglo-American conduct of the war.

World War II: Pacific Theater

World War II: European Theater

Atlantic Charter Declares a Postwar Right of Self-Determination

Battle of Stalingrad

Second Battle of El Alamein

Invasion of North Africa

Allied Forces Invade Sicily

Western Allies Invade Italy

Invasion of Normandy Begins the Liberation of Europe

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