The principal topic of discussion at the conference—which was code-named symbol and took place in a hotel complex in Anfa, a suburb of Casablanca—was strategic military options once North Africa had been cleared of Axis troops. The British, who arrived at the meetings far better prepared than the Americans, made a strong case for invasions of Sicily and then the Italian peninsula. The Americans, who preferred concentration on a cross-Channel invasion of France, reluctantly acceded. "We came, we listened, and we were conquered," remarked Major General Albert Wedemeyer, one U.S. attendee.
The Allied leaders at Casablanca took another important step in deciding to launch a combined bomber offensive against Germany. On the day the conference opened, the survivors of a special convoy from Trinidad arrived at Gibraltar. The convoy's devastating losses to German U-boats—77 percent—forced the two Allied leaders to assign priority to winning the Battle of the Atlantic. They agreed to divert to that struggle additional convoy escorts, escort carriers, and aircraft assets (including the VLR [very long range] Consolidated B-24 Liberator, which would, for the first time, be based at Newfoundland to close the Greenland air gap).
But the Casablanca Conference is chiefly remembered for Roosevelt's surprise announcement that the Allies would insist on "unconditional surrender." Churchill, who had not been informed that the announcement would be made, nonetheless immediately supported it. Some have charged that this decision needlessly prolonged the war by preventing negotiations with factions in the German resistance to Adolf Hitler that might have led them to topple his regime. Certainly, the declaration was a windfall for the German propaganda machine. In making the announcement, Roosevelt had in mind World War I and the way the German Right had utilized the November 1918 armistice to spread the myth that Germany had not been defeated militarily. That outcome had been a powerful assist in Hitler's rise to power.
Another aspect of the Casablanca Conference concerned relations with the French. General Charles de Gaulle, leader of the Free French, was not informed of the meeting beforehand; Churchill simply ordered him to Morocco, which was then still a French protectorate. Roosevelt and Churchill pushed de Gaulle into a partnership with General Henri Giraud, who had been spirited out of France by submarine. De Gaulle, already upset because Britain had undermined the French position in Syria and Lebanon, was eventually able to elbow the politically inept and equally stubborn Giraud into the shadows. However, the whole affair affected de Gaulle's attitude toward Britain and the United States. Spencer C. Tucker
Berthon, Simon. Allies at War: The Bitter Rivalry among Churchill, Roosevelt, and de Gaulle. New York: Carroll and Graf, 2001.; Kersaudy, François. Churchill and De Gaulle. New York: Atheneum, 1982.; Larabee, Eric. Commander in Chief: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, His Lieutenants & Their War. New York: Harper and Row, 1987.; Viorst, Milton. Hostile Allies: FDR and De Gaulle. New York: Macmillan, 1965.
Spencer C. Tucker