FDR Flies to the Casablanca Conference

San Marino - Scott #257C (1947)
San Marino – Scott #257C (1947)

The Casablanca Conference (codenamed SYMBOL) was held at the Anfa Hotel in Casablanca, French Morocco from January 14 to 24, 1943, to plan the Allied European strategy for the next phase of World War II. In attendance were United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Also attending and representing the Free French forces were Generals Charles de Gaulle and Henri Giraud; they played minor roles and were not part of the military planning. Premier Joseph Stalin had declined to attend, citing the ongoing Battle of Stalingrad as requiring his presence in the Soviet Union. In order to attend, Roosevelt flew in a Boeing 314 Flying Boat dubbed the Dixie Clipper — becoming the first U.S. president to travel on official business by airplane.

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 perhaps its most historically provocative statement of purpose, “unconditional surrender”. The doctrine of “unconditional surrender” came to represent the unified voice of implacable Allied will—the determination that the Axis powers would be fought to their ultimate defeat.

Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin D. Roosevelt

With German U-boats taking a heavy toll on American marine traffic in the Atlantic, President Roosevelt’s advisors reluctantly agreed to send him via airplane. Roosevelt, at a frail 60 years old, gamely made the arduous 17,000-mile round trip aboard Dixie Clipper (NC-18605), which had entered service in 1939. The Boeing 314 Clipper was a long-range flying boat produced by the Boeing Airplane Company between 1938 and 1941. One of the largest aircraft of the time, it used the massive wing of Boeing’s earlier XB-15 bomber prototype to achieve the range necessary for flights across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Twelve Clippers were built; nine were brought into service for Pan Am and later transferred to the U.S. military. The remaining three were sold to British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) by Pan Am and delivered in early 1941.

The Clipper fleet was pressed into military service during World War II, and the flying boats were used for ferrying personnel and equipment to the European and Pacific fronts. The aircraft were purchased by the War and Navy Departments and leased back to Pan Am for a dollar, with the understanding that all would be operated by the Navy once four-engined replacements for the Army’s four Clippers were in service. Only the markings on the aircraft changed: the Clippers continued to be flown by their experienced Pan Am civilian crews. American military cargo was carried via Natal, Brazil to Liberia, to supply the British forces at Cairo and even the Russians, via Teheran.

The Model 314 was then the only aircraft in the world that could make the 2,150-statute-mile (3,460 km) crossing over water, and was given the military designation C-98. Since the Pan Am pilots and crews had extensive expertise in using flying boats for extreme long-distance over-water flights, the company’s pilots and navigators continued to serve as flight crew.

Dixie Clipper
Dixie Clipper

President Roosevelt’s secret and circuitous journey began on January 11, 1943, with the plane stopping several times over four days to refuel and for its passengers to rest. Roosevelt and his entourage left Florida, touched down in the Caribbean, continued down the southern coast of South America to Brazil and then flew across the Atlantic to Gambia. They reached Casablanca on January 14. After a successful meeting with Churchill, as well as some sightseeing and visits to the troops, Roosevelt retraced the route back to the United States, celebrating his 61st birthday on January 30 somewhere over Haiti.

The conference produced a unified statement of purpose, the Casablanca Declaration, which announced to the world that the Allies would accept nothing less than the “unconditional surrender” of the Axis powers. Roosevelt had borrowed the term from General Ulysses S. Grant, who had communicated this stance to the Confederate commander at Forts Donelson and Henry during the American Civil War.

In a February 12, 1943 radio address, Roosevelt explained what he meant by unconditional surrender: “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”.

Behind the scenes, the United States and Great Britain were not, however, united in the commitment to see the war through to Germany’s capitulation. Some source material contradicts the official, reported accord between Churchill and Roosevelt, indicating Churchill did not fully subscribe to the doctrine of unconditional surrender. New York Times correspondent Drew Middleton, who was in Casablanca at the conference, later revealed in his book, Retreat From Victory, that Churchill had been “startled by the [public] announcement [of unconditional surrender]. I tried to hide my surprise. But I was his [Roosevelt’s] ardent lieutenant”.

According to former U.S. ambassador to Moscow Charles Bohlen, “Responsibility for this unconditional surrender doctrine rests almost exclusively with President Roosevelt”. He guessed that Roosevelt made the announcement “to keep Soviet forces engaged with Germany on the Russian front, thus depleting German munitions and troops” and secondly “to prevent Stalin from negotiating a separate peace with the Nazi regime”.

That the war would be fought by the Allies until the total annihilation of enemy forces was not universally welcomed. Diplomatic insiders were critical that such a stance was too unequivocal, and inflexible, canceling out any opportunity for political maneuvering, and morally debilitating to French and German resistance groups.

Sir Winston Churchill
Sir Winston Churchill

The British felt that arriving at some accommodation with Germany would allow the German army to help fight off the Soviet takeover of Eastern Europe. To Churchill and the other Allied leaders, the real obstacle to realizing this mutual strategy with Germany was the leadership of Adolf Hitler. Allen Dulles, the chief of OSS intelligence in Bern, Switzerland, maintained that the Casablanca Declaration was “merely a piece of paper to be scrapped without further ado if Germany would sue for peace. Hitler had to go”.

There exists evidence that German resistance forces, highly placed anti-Nazi government officials, were working with British intelligence, MI6, to eliminate Hitler and negotiate a peace with the Allies. One such man was Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, head of German intelligence, the Abwehr. His persistent overtures for support from the United States were ignored by Roosevelt.

Roosevelt, with advice from General George C. Marshall, the U.S. Army Chief of Staff, lobbied for a cross-Channel invasion of Europe. Churchill, with advice from the British Chiefs of Staff, led by General Sir Alan Brooke, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS, the professional head of the British Army), felt the time was not opportune, and favored an Allied assault on the island of Sicily followed by an invasion of mainland Italy. The British argument centered on the need to pull German reserves down into Italy where, due to the relatively poor north-south lines of communication, they could not be easily extracted to defend against a later invasion of northwest Europe. Additionally, by delaying the cross-Channel landing, it would mean that any invasion would be against a German army further weakened by many more months fighting on the Eastern Front against the Red Army.

Throughout the conference, Roosevelt’s attention was prominently focused on the Pacific War front and he faulted the British for what he felt was not a full commitment against Japanese entrenchment. The Italian strategy was agreed upon, a compromise between the two leaders, Roosevelt acceding to Churchill’s approach for Europe. Churchill, in turn, pledged more troops and resources to the Pacific and Burma to reinforce positions held by Chiang Kai-shek against the Japanese. The United States would provide assistance to the British in the Pacific by supplying escorts and landing craft.

United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and their advisors -- front row, left to right: General Arnold, Admiral King, General Marshall, Admiral Pound, Air Chief Marshal Portal, General Brooke, Field Marshal Dill, and Admiral Mountbatten.-- in Casablanca, January 1943.
United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and their advisors — front row, left to right: General Arnold, Admiral King, General Marshall, Admiral Pound, Air Chief Marshal Portal, General Brooke, Field Marshal Dill, and Admiral Mountbatten.– in Casablanca, January 1943.
Leaders of the Free French forces: General Henri Giraud (L) and General Charles de Gaulle (R) at the Casablanca Conference. In the background are Roosevelt and Churchill
Leaders of the Free French forces: General Henri Giraud (L) and General Charles de Gaulle (R) at the Casablanca Conference. In the background are Roosevelt and Churchill.

Charles de Gaulle had to be forced to attend, and he met a chilly reception from Roosevelt and Churchill. No Frenchmen were allowed to attend the military planning sessions.

The conference called for the official recognition of a joint leadership of the Free French forces by de Gaulle and Henri Giraud. There was notable tension between the two men during the talks. Roosevelt effected a public cordiality between them, encouraging them to shake hands, demonstrating a mutual affability for the photographers eager for a photo opportunity. Purportedly, the ritual handshake was done with reluctance and so quickly, they had to pose for a second shot. During the conference both men limited their interaction with each other to formalities, each pledging their mutual support.

During the Conference, Roosevelt spoke with the French resident general at Rabat, Morocco, about postwar independence and Jewish immigrants in North Africa. Roosevelt proposed that:

“[t]he number of Jews engaged in the practice of the professions (law, medicine, etc.) should be definitely limited to the percentage that the Jewish population in North Africa bears to the whole of the North African population…. [T]his plan would further eliminate the specific and understandable complaints which the Germans bore towards the Jews in Germany, namely, that while they represented a small part of the population, over 50 percent of the lawyers, doctors, schoolteachers, college professors, etc., in Germany were Jews/”

This disposition of the Jewish population harkened back to a mindset communicated in earlier years to Roosevelt by the American ambassador to Germany, William Dodd. Dodd had appraised Germany’s repression of Jews, and writing to Roosevelt, he said: “The Jews had held a great many more of the key positions in Germany than their number or talents entitled them to.”

Roosevelt presented the results of the conference to the American people in a radio address on February 12, 1943.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, known as the “stamp collecting president” probably appears on almost as many non-U.S. stamps as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln if not more. In May and June 1947, the tiny Republic of San Marino issued twenty stamps depicting Roosevelt, who had died on April 12, 1945. The six general issue stamps released on May 3, 1947, bore the same design with Roosevelt’s portrait in the center flanked by the flags of San Marino and the United States (Scott #257A-257F). These were printed by photogravure in different colors for each denomination, perforated 14. Scott #257C is denominated 5 lire and printed in a violet frame with the flags in their natural colors and the portrait brown. The three lowest denominations were surcharged with new values on June 16, 1947 (Scott #257G-257I).

[url=https://flic.kr/p/FjTJ2b][img]https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4752/25811702948_80fcc3e102_o.jpg[/img][/url][url=https://flic.kr/p/FjTJ2b]20180114-001[/url] by [url=https://www.flickr.com/photos/am-jochim/]Mark Jochim[/url], on Flickr
20,000 hits?

A programming note: I just noticed that this blog has achieved 20,000 views, remarkable because it took about a year-and-a-half to reach 10,000 and about four months for an additional 10,000. I don’t advertise ASAD aside from the entries are automatically posted to my Facebook and Twitter accounts (I don’t exactly have a lot of followers on either) and I rarely participate in any of the online forums (due to lack of time rather than lack of interest). The numbers don’t mean much to me, however, as I am much more interested in where the views come from. If you have a moment of boredom, have a look at the flag counters viewable upon hitting the “+” symbol at the bottom of the main page (it also reveals the archive links, etc.). I really do appreciate each and every person who stumbles across this blog and those who return after their initial encounter. Thank you very much, dear readers.

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