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Symbol of paradox: the Casablanca Conference, 1943.

The tide of the Second World War visibly turned, in the eyes of those who fought it, in 1943. The Allies were at last able to apply military power on a scale large enough to carry the war to the enemy. Yet that enemy remained formidable. Different vested interests remained operative. The men who directed the war from the centre in the United Kingdom and the United States operated with very different perceptions of their respective margins of power. Despite their growing abundance of materiel, the Allies faced awkward shortages of several essential items. These factors virtually dictated that at each crossroad of events a conference of principals was necessary, in order to attempt to reorient Allied grand strategy to new conditions and restore consensus. Historians have recently tended to focus on the discussions in late 1943, when the Soviets actively joined the ongoing consultations between the leading western Allies regarding overall war policy.(1) However, the stage was set by the first conference of the year, the aptly named SYMBOL conference, held in a suburban hotel outside Casablanca from 13 to 24 January.

At Casablanca, Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of the U.K., Franklin Delano Roosevelt, President of the US., their senior military advisers - the Combined Chiefs of Staff (C.C.S.) - and a battery of staff officers and aides met in secret to discuss political, diplomatic, and military issues. The two former aspects dominated a recent commentary, which argued that the conference had to be seen as a pivotal stage in the dissolution of the vision of an American-British condominium regarding the direction of the war and the definition of the post-war international system. This is certainly a valid perspective and it can be extended to depict the conference as an episode in the long decline of the U.K. from a position as a first rate world power.(2) However, Churchill, Roosevelt, and their subordinates mere most concerned at Casablanca with the war itself. They saw their priority as the need to lay down a consensus grand strategy for a sustained and escalating allied global offensive. Historians have often assumed that the outcome of the conference was a straightforward stage in the evolution of Allies plans. In a recent careful analysis, Tuvia Ben-Moshe could still argue that the momentum of ongoing campaigns made Churchill's task "easy," and for the British "the Casablanca conference was a great success."(3) The conference laid down a broad pattern for subsequent Allied grand strategy, but one which was interpreted differently by the two principals. The ramifications, on the most fundamental level of the making of grand strategy, warrant re-examination.

The arguments at Casablanca encompassed not only the question of balancing current and proposed campaigns against the Axis powers, but also a more fundamental point: what was to be the basic grand strategic approach in preparing and then executing the ultimate offensives? By January 1943, this question was a chronic point of contention in the Allied central direction of the war. Both senior partners had well developed broad visions of an optimum Allied grand strategic approach, visions which reflected how they perceived their respective situations. However, both visions had been seriously affected by previous decisions and the course of events. The principals - the British Chiefs of Staff (C.O.S.) and the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff (J.C.S.) - each hoped to persuade their partners in the C.C.S. that the SYMBOL conference should reorient allied policy in their preferred direction. This problem can best be studied thematically rather than chronologically. First, the prevailing assumptions and perceptions brought to the conference will be examined. Then the pivotal strategic debates and decisions will be traced and analyzed. This will be put in perspective by a look at a fundamental issue of allied overall war policy, the terms to be imposed on the enemy, brought out by the conference deliberations. The impact of the conference on Allied grand strategy and policy will then be assessed. The central thesis will be that the exchange of views at this pivotal juncture brought out several paradoxes in Allied policy for the central direction of the war that had been generated by the uneven evolution of attitudes, perceptions, and policies within the coalition. British military diplomacy scored a tangible but incomplete and costly success. The decisions of the conference, and the U.S. reaction to them, actually began a countdown on a British designed grand strategy intended to shape Allies policy.


The first symbol of the conference was its location - territory overrun by

allied forces because of a command decision by Roosevelt and Churchill. The principals brought with them assumptions and perceptions shaped by the consequences of previous decisions. The decision to launch operation TORCH altered the terms of the debate over a basic grand strategic approach. This debate may be expressed as the dash of two competing broad visions. The British desired to "implode" Axis power by a combination of blockade, bombing, sabotage and subversion, peripheral campaigns and then a final assault, which may be termed the "wear down" outline. The US. wanted to concentrate Allied forces as rapidly as possible and seek a decisive clash in the field, here termed "decisive concentration." The British vision was based on perceived relative weakness and stemmed from the events of 1940 and 1941. The British believed that even their alliance with the Soviet Union and the U.S. was not militarily powerful enough for the western Allies to risk launching full scale ground operations anywhere the main enemy force, the German Army, could potentially concentrate large forces for a counteroffensive. The only safe way forward was to weaken that force by "knocking out the props" from under it by the eclectic means described above, leaving a return to the continent as a coup de grade. The Allies agreed that Germany constituted the most dangerous enemy and their policy must be to concentrate on "Europe first," while the pressure of circumstances forced the C.C.S. to proceed, from January 1942, along "wear down" lines.(4) There were, however, three problems.

First, important sections of the U.S. government and high command resented the focus on Europe and pressed steadily for greater effort to be devoted to the war against Japan. Secondly, the J.C.S. never accepted any intrinsic merit in the "wear down" vision as an approach to pursue ultimate victory. They accepted it for the moment only because the U.S., far from being fully mobilized, was in no position to supply the power needed to warrant altering an existing approach. However, they remained convinced that U.S. mobilization would in due course provide that power. As U.S. interests required that its policy dominate coalition policy, U.S. forces would have to be concentrated in order to increase U.S. leverage. Finally, into late 1942 British controlled forces proved unable to meet their intermediate objectives quickly and cheaply enough to win any confidence in British plans and capabilities. The launching of TORCH compelled both partners to take stock of their prevailing broad visions, in preparation for the meeting at Casablanca.

In British eyes, the "wear down" approach was a broad set of parameters rather than a precise blueprint. The C.O.S. saw TORCH as in line with these parameters. Months of debate in Whitehall in late 1942 led to a redesigned "wear down" outline, adapted rather than discarded. Their proposal, submitted to Washington at the end of the year, called for a sequential approach. Continued campaigns in the Mediterranean would strain Axis power on safe terms, while escalated strategic bombing struck at its source. Assuming Soviet pressure steadily increased, in due course the Germans would be worn down enough to allow the Allies to launch a second front.(5) However, many problems regarding ongoing campaigns remained unresolved. Allied efforts to secure the vital Atlantic sea lanes had not yet succeeded. This failure contributed to a shortage of shipping which threatened to hamper the entire British war effort, let alone plans for future offensives. The Allied offensives in north Africa bogged down in December 1942, in the face of a fierce German reaction and poor weather. Yet they had progressed far enough to raise questions about allied intentions in the Mediterranean theatre and what policy should be adopted towards other powers involved, particularly the French. On all these points and others, intentions and perceptions had to be clarified.

Both sides were in fact determined to clarify their views on every aspect of grand strategy: basic posture, a general framework for 1943, and an ultimate approach. The allies suspected each others' agenda. Unfortunately for the Americans, this feeling extended into their own ranks. The J.C.S. failed to forge a firm U.S. consensus position to bring to the conference. All agreed that shipping shortages would limit global options. They also agreed that British proposals to expand operations farther into the Mediterranean would drain forces into a subsidiary theatre and prevent what they all desired - the concentration of allied power in the U.K. for a grand strategic offensive, with U.S. forces predominant. Many in the War Department viewed the new British outline proposal as a deliberate attempt to conserve British power and foster British influence at the expense of a more rapid turn to the ultimate offensive.(6) The J.C.S. agreed to press for a renewed concentration in the U.K., a curtailment of future Mediterranean efforts, an escalation of strategic bombing against Germany, and early offensives against Japanese forces in Burma, to assist China. They also agreed that a more aggressive drive was necessary to prevent Japanese consolidation in the Pacific. However, Gen. Marshall, Chief of Staff U.S. Army, looked sceptically at the claim made by Admiral King, Chief of Naval Operations U.S. Navy, that a set amount of Allied forces, up to 30 per cent of the total available, had to be committed against the Japanese in order to avoid a repeat of the near disaster of the Guadalcanal campaign.(7)

Marshall felt adequate forces had already been deployed or slated. He also feared the effect of a specific quota on his attempt to revive the flow of forces to the U.K. As a result the J.C.S. reached only a very shaky and vague consensus in rebuttal to the British proposal: shut down further amphibious assaults in the Mediterranean in order to protect their priorities, an unspecified boost in the Pacific and a resumed flow of forces to the U.K. for a future offensive of no set date. The J.C.S. discussed the whole issue with Roosevelt only once, on 7 January, and received little satisfaction. In an attempt to sway the President to support the J.C.S. agenda, Marshall described further Mediterranean operations and a second front launched from August or later as, due to the limitations of maritime resources, "either or" propositions. However, Roosevelt hesitated to commit himself to any course that might leave Allied forces underemployed or even idle for several months while public opinion, and Moscow, grew restive. Therefore, he refused to give firm support to any course and warned that the J.C.S. would have to take into account the need to strengthen the coalition in pressing their strategic plans.(8) The Americans left for the conference without putting their own house in order.

The reverse was true of the British. Habit and incentive both played a part - the habit of forging a working compromise consensus, the incentive of needing U.S. support in order to proceed. The British required U.S. support on two levels. The most favourable possible commitment to supply British production programmes and forces was required, in order to maintain an intense total war effort. The C.O.S. hoped to revive an earlier proposal to tie the allocation of munitions to agreed strategic needs.(9) U.S. support for basic grand strategic principles, "Europe first" and the "wear down" approach, was also imperative. The C.O.S. saw King's proposal as a threat to both principles. They mere also aware of U.S. and Chinese frustration over cautious plans regarding Burma in particular. The C.O.S. were well aware, however, that their own plans depended on full U.S. co-operation.(10)

In order to press offensive action, the allies would have to be able to marshal adequate amphibious forces. The C.O.S. accepted the argument that British resources would only suffice for one large operation at a time. They also accepted further apparent limits. There were not enough landing craft available for HUSKY, the proposed invasion of Sicily and the major Mediterranean plan. Nor were there enough resources for any cross-channel attack scenario. A lengthy time delay would be faced in transferring assets between theatres. The U.S. Eighth Air Force would have to be heavily reinforced if the strategic bombing offensive was to be escalated. Finally, there was a more basic limit. Regardless of whatever grand strategy emerged, U.S. reinforcements would be needed both to bolster the U.K. and to support any move by U.K. based forces. The C.O.S. oversaw the preparation of a 22-page report detailing requirements for allied forces for their proposed 1943 grand strategy; it was dominated by the issue of the use of U.S. forces.(11)

The British had one crucial advantage: they had agreed amongst themselves what their objectives were. The only issue the C.O.S. failed to resolve was whether to invade Sicily or Sardinia.(12) More importantly, their political overlord supported their fundamental position. Churchill was becoming preoccupied by the need to foster a more visible combat role by U.K. forces and continually complained that the western Allies were not carrying a burden equal to their capability. He relentlessly insisted on the maximum possible continuous offensive action.(13) However, Churchill shared the prevailing British perception that to assault anywhere an unbroken German army could concentrate really strong forces would lead to disaster. Churchill fully accepted the revised "wear down" consensus as long as it was applied as aggressively as possible.

Churchill outlined this revised consensus to his friend and confidante Field Marshal Smuts, Prime Minister of South Africa, on the eve of the conference. Despite the unfortunate stall in Africa, the Allies might still win the war in Europe that year. However, the Germans had proven how far they were from finished. The Allied task was to prevent them from recovering enough strength to try again to knock out the Soviet Union. The best course would be to press central Mediterranean operations to knock out Italy and force increased burdens on the Germans" in an unfavourable environment with long lines of communication," incite Balkan rebellion, lobby the Turks, and stiffen the blockade. Europe itself should be invaded only when "by a full use of our air superiority the enemy's strength has been materially reduced." The submarine threat would have to be destroyed and an effective bombing strategy would have to be settled.(14) This outlined a complete package, which expressed the clear British consensus on the fundamentals as submitted to Washington and put the war against Japan at the bottom of the list. The British went to the conference well prepared, well supported, and united on a clear objective: to ensure that the Allies laid down the basic pattern for their grand strategic offensive along lines best suited to the capabilities of British power and to British interests, in that order.


SYMBOL was the first full scale war conference since January 1942. The British came with a virtual mobile Whitehall at their disposal, including a headquarters ship complete with map room and all the staff and intelligence support necessary to reinforce the prepared case. Churchill and the C.O.S. met frequently, remained basically united and followed a specific approach. The plan involved judicious concessions coupled with patient exposition of the British case, "like water dripping on a stone." This contrasted starkly with the divisions in the U.S. delegation and its surprising lack of preparedness and support. The latter flowed from the former and definitely affected the final outcome. If there was a man of the hour, it was Field Marshal Dill, Churchill's personal representative in Washington and senior British delegate to the C.C.S. After a year in Washington, Dill had gained Marshall's trust and was uniquely well placed to act as interpreter. Dill alone saw clearly from the start that the basic problem was mutual mistrust of each other's agenda and a fear of being exploited. Dill worked ceaselessly to overcome friction and pressed the C.O.S. to be seen to respond to American concerns.(15) To him must go much credit for the degree of consensus the conference did achieve.

The meetings of the C.C.S., sometimes twice daily, between 14 and 23 January, settled the main business. Two important plenary sessions and a very important press conference took place. Several key problems were settled in frequent less formal discussion. Issues moved in and out of the main flow of discussion in neat symmetry. Resolutions on one point materially affected progress on others. The final result was a multi-tiered compromise fashioned by the staffs within parameters set by fixed positions and objective facts. However, a serious imbalance emerged from political pressures injected by Churchill and Roosevelt.

The first five days of the conference were the hardest. With difficulty the C.C.S. achieved a breakthrough, but only after an extended exchange of views which fostered deeper suspicion and revealed fundamental differences over grand strategic approach. Well briefed by Dill, the British tried to fit concerns about operations against the Japanese into the context of the "Europe first" policy. Each side had two specific fears. The British feared that the U.S. would escalate Pacific offensives enough to impede action in Europe. They also felt the U.S. might use its control of the necessary margins of amphibious forces to shut down further Mediterranean operations and force the attempt of a premature second front.(16) The Americans feared the British would block any further transfer of resources for action against the Japanese in order to expand Mediterranean operations. The consequence, they felt, would be further dispersion of forces at the expense of strategic concentration, thus prolonging the war.(17) The underlying American anxiety remained that the British would block a real concentration of U.S. forces, with adverse effects on U.S. influence as well as on the war itself. The underlying British concern was that the U.S. would seize control of Allied grand strategy and force rash action. The specific issues involved the balance of effort between the U.K., the Mediterranean, Burma, and the Pacific. The ultimate issue was whether it was time for the Allies to attempt to take control of events by focusing on a deliberate grand strategic offensive.

The Americans laid down the basis for discussion regarding operations against the Japanese. The British did the same regarding operations in Europe. The issue became to what extent qualifications would adjust these positions. This rested on the question of an overall approach, which emerged through the various proposals.(18) King tried to force the pace by his call for a set level of Allied forces - now 25 per cent - to be devoted to operations against the Japanese. However, the crisis came over the effects of future Mediterranean operations. On 16 January, Marshall made the position clear. The British proposal to carry the war to the Germans by combining strategic bombing and Mediterranean pressure, starting with an invasion of Sicily, raised a vital question: "Was an operation against Sicily merely a means to an end or an end in itself? Is it to be part of an integrated plan to win the war or simply taking advantage of an opportunity?" King supported his colleague strongly: "It should be decided whether a planned step-by-step policy was to be pursued or whether me should rely on seizing opportunities."(19)

The J.C.S. clearly understood the fundamental British argument, that relative military weakness limited Allied options in Europe.(20) Nevertheless they made it clear that they saw the new British definition of "wear down" as an approach which planned to use the eastern front as the "grinding agent" and to support it only by diversionary operations which would not engage the great strength the Allies expected to deploy. King took a strong lead in this pivotal debate. He argued Allied grand strategy should conform to the fact that Soviet and Chinese manpower mere absorbing the bulk of enemy power and allied forces should strike hard. King also criticized the core assumption of "wear down": "... he felt that (Germany's) defeat could only be effected by direct military action, rather than by a failure in her morale. Was it necessary however to accept that me could do nothing in France before 1944?" Air Chief Marshal Portal, Chief of the Air Staff, made the definitive British reply:

This depended entirely on Germany's power of resistance. If

we concentrate everything me could on Germany this year it

was possible that we might cause her to crumble and thus be

able to move into Germany with comparatively small forces.

Until this condition had been produced, however, some 20

divisions would get us nowhere on the Continent ... it was

essential to have a plan and some resources ready in the U.K.

to take advantage of a crack. In order to produce the crack,

however, me must keep up the maximum pressure on

Germany by land operations; air bombardment alone was not


Crisis and resolution occurred on the same day, 18 January. The question of a second front was relegated behind two other issues. Could the British demonstrate that further Mediterranean operations would advance allied interests without precluding concentration of force? Could the Americans demonstrate that escalated action against the Japanese would not threaten "Europe first?" King forced the Mediterranean issue by offering to find the necessary forces only for HUSKY. The J.C.S. tried two approaches on the latter question. King wanted a charter for operations to breach the second line of the Japanese perimeter in the Pacific, to secure the initiative and maintain pressure. The entire U.S. delegation wanted the Chinese relieved. The British wanted to restrict 1943 operations in the southwest Pacific to widening the breach in the Japanese outer perimeter with the forces at hand. They felt an all out conquest of Burma could not be pledged far in advance because of the forces it would require, but cited only shortages of landing craft and escort vessels as insoluble obstacles. On 17 January, Marshall warned that unless ANAKIM, the reconquest of Burma, was laid on for 1943: "a situation might arise in the Pacific at any time that would necessitate the U.S. regretfully withdrawing from commitments in the E.T.O."(22)

Then on 18 January King offered to find the needed resources, even to curtail Pacific operations, to bring ANAKIM about. This forced the C.O.S. to respond. ANAKIM could now be placed under consideration, "definitely on the books." Pacific campaigns were another matter. A move into the central Pacific would hamper European efforts. The real danger of prolonging the war lay in giving Germany a respite from continuous escalated pressure. In reply, Marshall opposed waiting on events and tying up forces in the U.K that could be actively used elsewhere; forces should be concentrated but for a set purpose. Gen. Brooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff and Chairman of the C.O.S., opposed any dilution of the "Europe first" policy. King insisted he would not countenance another near disaster because of the application of insufficient force in the Pacific. Impasse seemed at hand,(23) but there were other forces at work.

The one thing the C.C.S. never disputed was the need to ward off another Churchill-Roosevelt override of their strategic advice, as had happened in June and July of 1942 regarding the debate over what became operation TORCH - the campaign that secured the site of the conference. The thought of a decision based more on "political" imperatives than strategic priorities and logistic appreciations was a shared nightmare. The C.O.S. consensus with Churchill remained threatened by his belief that staff plans did not intend to employ Allied power to the fullest extent. The Americans did not trust Brooke's motives or his staccato delivery style. The British doubted King's commitment to "Europe first." But the outlines proffered by each were based on existing campaigns and momentum which could not be easily abandoned. Either adjustments would have to be made or an override might come into play. Dill and Portal, assisted by Air Vice-Marshal Slessor, Assistant Chief of Air Staff (Plans), found a way out of the deadlock.

Dill played on the reluctance of Brooke and Marshall to again face their bosses without a consensus. Brooke offered to accept expanded operations in the southwest Pacific and a pledge to prepare ANAKIM subject to a later decision on whether to proceed. Marshall suggested an elastic clause: allow whatever escalation in the Pacific that would not impede the flow of "necessary" forces to Europe. Slessor and Portal put together a draft with clauses so tortuous and elastic that everyone could claim some satisfaction.(24) It was ready just in time for the C.C.S. to report a deal in principle to Churchill and Roosevelt on the afternoon of 18 January. The essence of the compromise was simple. To assist the Soviets and maintain constant pressure on the Germans in 1943, escalated strategic bombing and extended Mediterranean operations would be pursued. Ground forces would also be built up in the U.K. in order to be ready to seize any opportunity and to prepare for an eventual second front. Operations to overrun New Guinea and the Solomon Islands would be formally approved and more expansive efforts could be considered later. Limited offensives in Burma would continue and ANAKIM was to be prepared for a proposed December start date.(25)

The response from Churchill and Roosevelt stiffened the C.C.S. determination to settle the issue themselves. Both leaders pressed for maximum possible offensive action in 1943, particularly a cross-channel assault if events allowed. The discussion of a possible commander for the second front elicited two statements from Churchill. In principle, the supreme commander of a campaign should be provided by the nation contributing the bulk of the forces. Also, a chief of staff specially charged with cross-channel preparations should now be named. This raised questions of great importance for the future direction of grand strategy. This active interest from the two leaders sealed the basic compromise, for the C.C.S. dared not risk reopening fundamental issues. King settled the issue: he would have preferred a "victory blueprint," but this new working basis was acceptable.(26)

Breakthrough eased somewhat the tensions built up by high stakes and close quarters. Specific agreements now emerged in a more accommodating atmosphere. On 21 January the C.C.S. defined the scale of and contributions to ANAKIM, and agreed to decide in July whether to proceed. On 22 January the C.O.S. "noted" the U.S. outline plan for Pacific operations in 1943. "Europe first" was reaffirmed, but forces "of an adequate level to retain the initiative" were to be deployed. It was agreed to continue delivering supplies to the Soviets, but new conditions regarding naval losses were noted by the C.C.S. Command machinery was reorganized for the final offensive in north Africa. Out of this came the final resolution of the debate on the next step in the Mediterranean. Operation HUSKY would proceed, as it was felt to be the stroke most likely to open the Mediterranean, put severe pressure on Italy and really widen Allied options. A command team was appointed, and directed to prepare the operation for July or August."

Important progress was made regarding a second front. The C.C.S. had a long discussion on 21 January on au aspects of the problem, from build-up through exploitation. For the first time, the British staff displayed visible determination to come to grips with concrete problems. Several important agreements ensued. The Allies would not be able to muster the strength to attempt a deliberate assault against an unbroken German Army in 1943, but a determined build-up would be resumed. 1943 activity would proceed along three British proposed lines: amphibious raids on northwest Europe; HADRIAN, an autumn attempt to seize a bridgehead in Normandy if the Germans had weakened; and a reactive "opportunity" assault if the Germans cracked. Two important new decisions emerged: 1) to appoint a chief of staff to the Supreme Commander (COSSAC) charged to prepare all second front plans and build up a staff for the Supreme Commander, who would be named "when operations were reasonably imminent"; 2) to plan a full scale deliberate assault in 1944. These decisions were fleshed out by new agreed schedules for shipping and landing craft allocations and a new target of fifteen U.S. divisions assembled in the UK. by December.(28)

Future policy for two other vital campaigns was also settled fairly rapidly after the breakthrough. However, in both cases the real consensus developed outside formal C.C.S. sessions. The submarine threat in the Atlantic finally elicited a long overdue meeting of the minds in the C.C.S. On 15 January, the C.C.S. agreed to determine how many forces would be required to defeat the German threat outright. It was later agreed each side would devote maximum effort to deploying air and surface forces adequate to achieve the objective: clear victory in 1943.(29) The combined strategic bombing offensive from the U.K. also turned an important corner. Churchill at last agreed to abandon his opposition to the American strategy of daylight operations, which had encouraged opposition in the U.S. to the expansion of Eighth Air Force. The C.C.S. now agreed that while escalated strategic bombing could not win the war alone it could seriously reduce German power, directly assisting the Soviets and clearing the way for a second front. The agreement reached on 21 January emerged from a British draft. Portal would oversee a combined offensive, as agent for the C.C.S.; but each force would decide how it would execute the directive: "Your primary object will be the progressive destruction of the German military, industrial and economic system, and the undermining of the morale of the German people to a point where their armed resistance is fatally weakened."(30) The military pieces of the puzzle were all in place.

The C.C.S., however, had an uncomfortable time pressing the full accord on Churchill and Roosevelt on 23 January. Both looked askance at the prospect of a long delay between victory in Africa and the execution of HUSKY and demanded the operation be launched before July. Roosevelt also feared that without a supreme commander second front preparations would be shuffled aside. C.C.S. unity withstood these probes and an agreed draft was approved. But Churchill and Roosevelt wanted above all to ensure that the plan could be presented to Stalin, and to Allied public opinion, as one that made maximum possible use of allied power. Therefore, they insisted on declaring that the aim of Allied grand strategy was now to achieve victory in Europe in 1943 even though the C.C.S. had drafted an outline tailored to attempt that objective only in 1944.(31) This was the first paradox and it imparted an ambitious tone to what was only the shakiest of compromises.


The SYMBOL decisions reflect, when taken together, an obvious fact - neither side really trusted the other's basic grand strategic approach, so each decided to pursue their own interpretation of an umbrella formula. SYMBOL is usually presented as either a clear-cut British success and U.S. setback or an indecisive trade off. This point will be developed below but here it should be noted that regarding grand strategy both sides saw the outline as one that kept options open; it was really an addition to the succession of grand strategy outlines since January 1942 shaped by objective facts and momentum but couched in terms loose enough to give each party some scope to attempt to shift, events in a desired direction.(32) British willingness to make exertions for ANAKIM was important, but they had not committed to anything final. The same spirit and resolve regarding cross-channel operations had an effect; but approval of HUSKY killed any remaining chance of concentrating the necessary resources for ROUNDUP, the proposed deliberate assault on France for 1943. The Pacific clause was extremely elastic. The J.C.S. made it quite clear that they would, if necessary, build up stronger forces not only to meet any crisis but also to head off any unwanted Mediterranean ventures. The bombing directive at last laid the groundwork for a seriously escalated combined offensive. But its terms covered every conceivable task, from hitting submarine bases to killing German workers. The execution of policy remained firmly in the airmen's hands. What direction there was tilted clearly towards direct pressure on Germany, but in accordance with the "wear down" approach and with the clear danger of divergent effort.(33)

The importance of this elasticity was the friction it reflected at the fundamental level - "wear down" versus "decisive concentration." The British preserved the essence of their revised "wear down" approach. They did this partly by skilful military diplomacy but also by exploiting existing momentum and facts. ROUNDUP had already been precluded by the stall in Tunisia and the global disruption and dispersion of Allied resources. For political reasons, allied armies could not sit still between victory in Africa and a 1944 second front. Therefore, the U.S. reluctantly agreed to exploit TORCH. The British had a feasible outline at hand, which helped entrench their agenda. However, this was not unequivocal success. Once again, "wear down" won no convinced U.S. support on its intrinsic merit. Marshall and King remained unconvinced that the British visions included any tangible or concrete programme of how to defeat Germany militarily.(34) The J.C.S. merely agreed that circumstances compelled its extension along these lines, and this time clauses mere inserted which set specific notice that "wear down" was on probation.

One such lever was the ambiguous clause regarding operations in the Pacific, which exacerbated British suspicions. Another was the decision to nominate a COSSAC, and from British ranks, which ensured that a vested interest in pressing the second front would evolve in London. SYMBOL in fact served notice that the Americans saw "wear down" as an interim policy to be tailored along lines which would develop into the "decisive concentration" approach. This meant limited Mediterranean campaigns, and for the strategic bombing offensive a clear mission to pave the way for the final offensive by all three services rather than a vague one to knock out Germany all by itself (a distinction unfortunately never really accepted by the commander in chief of Bomber Command). The SYMBOL directive was the most expansive allied document ever drafted on the basis of the "wear down" principle; it also gave notice of the U.S. intention to abandon that principle. That was a second paradox.

Roosevelt's controversial declaration of the policy of unconditional surrender at the concluding press conference exposed the third paradox; however, this one applied largely to British policy. Several points of this familiar episode need re-emphasis. This was not an extemporary remark. The ground had been prepared long before. The idea had been under study in the State Department for several months. Roosevelt raised it with Churchill in August. The J.C.S. were told in December the policy would be publicly announced. Nor was it a monocausal gesture. It was not meant merely to reassure Stalin, or soothe public opinion shaken by the Darlan affair, or commit Congress irrevocably to total war, or ward off divisive debate on war aims. The great strength of the English speaking powers' policy-making machinery was that seminal decisions of this kind were never taken on the arbitrary whim of one individual. Roosevelt saw the unconditional surrender declaration as a deliberate ploy to meet all these pressures publicly and to imprint a clearly U.S. crafted policy on to the essence of coalition war policy and grand strategy. For the concept was a very American concept and a logical culmination to the prevailing vision of total war: a moral crusade meant to lead to permanent clear-cut solutions by the categorical defeat of irreconcilable evil. It fitted well with U.S. grand strategy - the routing of enemy military power by a decisive confrontation in the field, leaving no room for ambiguity. This would be further confirmed when the public unconditional surrender of "all our enemies" made sure no secret treaties or commitments could prejudice post-war settlement as in 1918. Finally, categorical and acknowledged defeat would prevent any repetition of German denial of military defeat and give the Allies the chance to end once and for all German ability to pose a military threat.(35)

The crucial question of authority was the only uncertain aspect of the whole policy, in U.S. eyes. If German power was routed, who would surrender unconditionally? The worst problem here, however, confronted the British. The War Cabinet's only and successful objection was to Churchill's suggestion that Italy be excluded, in the hope of inducing a plea for terms. Whitehall was forced to react to a US. proposal because it had simply never been able to decide exactly where the specific treatment of a defeated Germany fit into British war policy and grand strategy.(36) Roosevelt's move pushed this British problem into the open. To sort out the full implications, the thread must be traced from the beginning.

Right from late 1939, the Chamberlain government had declared British war aims to be the clear military defeat of Germany, followed by concrete steps to ensure that it would no longer threaten the balance of power. But as Chamberlain had been reluctant to fight a total war, these maxims had never been specifically defined in detail. Churchill proved both willing and able to fight a total war and defined these war aims in one word: victory. However, he was no more able to solve the central dilemma than Chamberlain had been. Germany could not be vaporized. A large German polity and potential military power would continue to exist. In fact, it was considered so powerful as it was that, as noted, Whitehall had settled on a grand strategy based not on decisive military confrontation but on imploding German power. The most logical seal to "wear down" would thus have been to aim specifically to foster an anti-Nazi coup, in order to bring about a regime with which the allies would be willing to discuss terms. Churchill's consolidation in power ruled this out, because from that point on official British policy was that there was no possibility that such an acceptable regime could emerge.(37)

There is no great mystery as to the "why" of this position. Peter Hoffmann and others have demonstrated that German resistance circles were seen in Allied eyes as weak, unreliable, and so tainted with militarism as to be little more palatable than Hitler. It is also clear that by the time of the conference the Allies were convinced that a hard line was in their best interests. Churchill would not risk a crack in the solid public vision of a total war crusade by even discussing the principle of offering terms.(38) But he promoted a grand strategy grounded on the implication that relative military weakness favoured a political solution! There had, as noted, been some evolution of the original "wear down" vision. But at most it now envisaged the inducement of political chaos by military means, capped by a military coup de grace. The spirit of "wear down" was in line with total war; but the constraints which shaped it suggested that by default the British had drifted into a policy of hoping to induce anarchy. They felt unable to crush the military strength of the Nazi regime but remained unwilling to deal with its opponents.(39)

Here in fact was double paradox. Whitehall's opportunistic "hammer away and see what happens" approach had led to a grand strategy that, if it worked according to plan, might well bring about a situation the British had rejected out of hand - either if Hitler decided to commit suicide by accepting Allied demands, or his opponents toppled him and offered terms. "Wear down" was tied to an ultimate objective - chaos - with which the US. vision of grand strategy seemed likely to put the Allies in a better position to deal. Perceived weakness had made the issue of a German surrender seem so remote, not to mention its potential to cause internal friction, that for once the British had no co-ordinated policy to propose. There could have been no more visible evidence of the growing shift of power in the coalition. The war policies of Roosevelt and Churchill fitted well together and with U.S. grand strategy. British grand strategy, however, had clearly become a more awkward and uncertain method to pursue overall war policy.


Brooke felt then and later that at Casablanca the British had successfully entrenched their latest outline of the "wear down" approach as Allied grand strategy. This was partially true. It had, for instance, been agreed in writing that no deliberate assault of northwest Europe would be attempted before 1944. However, this was a stay of execution, not a triumph. Brooke's ebullience was unwarranted. He particularly approved of Mediterranean rearrangements, which left the eastern Mediterranean under British theatre command and surrounded Eisenhower, in control of the active zone in the centre, with British subordinates.(40) This betrayed surprising ignorance of the US. delegation's view of the commitment it had made to "wear down." HUSKY reflected the true nature of the consensus. The British meant it to lead to the elimination of Italy as a foe and expanded Mediterranean operations which would load added burdens on the Germans on favourable terms for the allies. The Americans saw it as a virtual terminus, at least as far as ground operations were concerned. If HUSKY became a matter of serious dispute or, as was likely, a consumer of resources, Brooke had in fact delivered a hostage to fortune.

To be specific, Eighth Army, the real core of British military power in the theatre, was now both under Eisenhower's direction and dependent on U.S. co-operation to meet the full demands of any move to the north. It had been hoped that leaving Cairo in command of its own area would maintain some visibly British controfled active effort. Hovxver, the truncated Middle East command was directed to make its first priorities the maintenance of Eighth Army and the assistance of HUSKY preparations! Cairo clearly faced the prospect of being left without the resources to attempt anything serious at all. All this made the atmosphere surrounding the SYMBOL accord a crucial factor. The general feeling was more relief at a bearable compromise than satisfaction over any profound understanding. The praise heaped on Dill underlined how high tensions had risen.(41)

In fact, even after ten days at close quarters going over familiar problems, the C.C.S. had done little to forge any fundamental meeting of the minds. Many of the U.S. delegation left the conference feeling they had been manipulated by the more united and more carefully prepared British. These feelings reflected a sense of self-criticism at not having matched British resolve and preparedness, but this only deepened frustration. The U.S. staffs resolved never again to face the British without a fully researched, carefully defined, and fully supported consensus position. This attitude altered the J.C.S. approach to the subsequent conferences in Washington, Quebec, and Cairo/Teheran, which marked a noticeable maturing in the practice of U.S. military diplomacy - a process also greatly assisted by the mushrooming of U.S. material strength from late 1942 on. The J.C.S. also realized that the British vision had come forward at Casablanca because it remained more militarily realistic regarding short term prospects in Europe. This was another situation the J.C.S. took steps to correct henceforth, on a far more fundamental level than the mere issue of fixing the date for the invasion of France.(42)

The traditional description SYMBOL defines two levels: in particular, as a simple trade-off that bought the British time to pursue a Mediterranean campaign in return for more ambitious action in the Pacific; in general, as a recognition of immediate circumstances which simply postponed a more fundamental overhaul of Allied grand strategy. Both claims reflected the influence of the views of the participants on U.S. official historians - because no "blueprint" was laid down, especially for the Pacific, there were no fundamental decisions regarding a basic grand strategic approach.(43) This is no longer really adequate. Interestingly, whereas the British official historian saw no change in the C.O.S. basic views on grand strategy, his U.S. counterpart detected a pivotal shift in J.C.S. attitudes. From Casablanca, the war department realized that the original vision of a nearly total concentration on an assault projected from the U.K. had become obsolete. The concentration approach would now have to become simply the culminating track of a steadily escalated multi-faceted grand strategic offensive. The newly specified role of strategic bombing most directly underlined this change. Whatever plan now evolved for the second front would take account of the "wear down" campaigns to be pursued in 1943.(44) "Wear down," instead of being supplanted, would be absorbed. This must be seen as a shift on a fundamental level of strategic thinking.

Nevertheless, nothing done at Casablanca scuttled any chance that the C.C.S. might late reach a more substantial consensus. The whole concept of "wear down" had been drifting towards his very synthesis for over a year. But there were several serious obstacle. Militarily, how were the C.C.S. to define when and how to make the transition? The reception of COSSAC was seen as an important litmus test. The British staffs had never disagreed that Allied ground forces would ultimately have to invade the continent, but first. The U.S. staffs still wanted to proceed when Allied forces reached a given strength, regardless of the extent of prior progress. Diplomatically, the Americans had to be convinced that the British did not reject he whole U.S. strategic concept. Logistically, the C.C.S. would have to learn how to account for and allocate critical resources flexibly but with precision. Finally, the British would have to accept that their claim to equal status, based on greater combat power engaged and longer experience, was a wasting asset. They displayed no such recognition at Casablanca.

SYMBOL was a decisive conference, particularly for its impact on U.S. attitudes and what this would mean for British status and grand strategy.(45) It established that there would be a finite limit set on that grand strategy by a partner who would have the power to impose that limit. It laid down the future directions of Allied grand strategy for the offensive phase and confirmed that whatever Allied grand strategy finally emerged for the ultimate offensive would be a blend, barring an early German collapse. It was also the ultimate paradox in terms of the definition and formulation of Allied grand strategy and war policy. At Casablanca, the British taught the Americans how effective a well researched vigorously applied guiding concept could be. Within the year, at Teheran, the pupil switched places with the master. (1) Recent literature includes Keith Eubank, Summit at Teheran (New York, 1995) Paul D. Mayle, Eureka Summit. Agreement in Principle and the Big Three at Teheran 1943 (Newark, 198); and Keith Sainsbury, The Turning Point (London, 1985). (2) Warren F. Kimball, The Juggler: Franklin Roosevelt as Wartime Statesman (Princeton, 1991), chapter four. (3) Tuvia Ben-Moshe, "Winston Churchill and the Second Front: a Reappraisal," Journal of Modern History, lxii, 1990, pp. 518-19. This conclusion was seconded in more restrained fashion in another recent study, Alan F. Wilt, "The Significance of the Casablanca Decisions, January, 1943," The Journal of Military History, lv, 1991, p. 517. (4) The British concept can be traced in COS(40)397, 26/5/40, CAB80/11, WP(40)352, 3/9/40, CAB66/11, COS(40)48(0)(JP), 13/12/40, CAB80/24, COS(41)115(0),22/6/41, CAB80/58, and the papers relating to the ARCADIA conference in PREM/3/499/2, (Public Record Office[P.R.O.]). The U.S. concept is laid out in M. Matloff & E. Snell Strategic Planning for Coalition Warfare 1941-1942 (Washington, 1953). The basic C.C.S. outline, laid down at ARCADIA, is the directive labelled WWI, found in COS(42)7(0),5/1/42, (P.R.O.). (5) COS(42)452(0)(final), 31/12/42, PREM3/499/7, COS(42)466(0), 31/12/42, CAB80/66, Defence Committee (Operations) minutes, 29/12/42, CAB69/4. (6) J.C.S. minutes, 10/12, 15/12, Supplementary, 22/12/42, (J.C.S. Records, Part I, 1942-1945, Frederick, MD, microfilm), Meetings, Reel 1; A.C. Wedemeyer, Wedemeyer Reports! (New York, 1958) is the most extreme account of suspicion of the British agenda. (7) J.C.S. minutes 22/1/42,5/1/43, Meetings, Reel 1; Wedemeyer, 177. King claimed that only 15 per cent of Allied forces were then deployed against the Japanese. Also the J.C.S. agreement to renew their pressure for an all out attack launched from the U.K was tenuous, and did not extend to any very specific schedule. (8) J.C.S. minutes, 511, 7/l/43, Meetings, Reel 1; Foreign Relations of the United States: The Conferences at Washington, 1941-1942, and Casablanca; 1943 (Washington, 1968), (hereafter cited as FRUS, Casablanca), minutes of White House meeting, 7/l/43,505-14; Wedemeyer, 174; F.C. Pogue, George C Marshall: Organizer of Victory 1943-1945 (New York, 1973), 15-16. (9) COS(W)422, C.O.S. to Joint Staff Mission (JSM), 2/1/43, (Principal War Telegrams and Memoranda 1940-1943 [PT], vol. 6, Nendeln, Lichtenstein, 1976). (10) JSM671, 7/1, JSM677,8/1/43, JSM to COS, PT, vol. 6; C.O.S. minutes, 8/1,9/1/43 (P.R-O.) CAB79/25; W.F. Kimball, Churchill and Roosevelt. The Complete Correspondence, vol. 2, C-258, Churchill to Roosevelt, 10/1/43 (Princeton, 1985). (11) C.O.S. minutes, 1/1, 12/1/43, CAB79/59, COS(43)4(0), 5/1/43, CAB80/67, JP(42)1005 (revise) (Final), 10/1/43, CAB84/51; COS(W)432, C.O.S. to JSM, 6/1/43, PT, vol. 6. (12) C.O.S. minutes, 12/1/43, CAB79/59. (13) COS(43)3(0),5/1/43, CAB80/67; W.S. Churchill, The Hinge of Fate (New York, 1979, first published 1950), pp. 584-85. (14) Churchill to Smuts, 11/1/43, PREM3/499/12; Ben-Moshe, "Churchill and the Second Front," p. 517. (15) A. Danchev, Very Special Relationship (London, 1986), p. 127; Wedemeyer, 179, for an impression of the contrast in approach. (16) C.O.S. minutes, 13/1/43, CAB99/24. (17) J.C.S. minutes, 13/1,14/1/43, Meetings, Reel 1. (18) C.O.S. minutes, 14/1,15/1, C.C.S. minutes, 14/1,15/l/43, CAB99/24; J.C.S. minutes, 14/1, 15/1/43, Meetings, Reel 1. (19) C.C.S. minutes, 15/1, 16/1/43, CAB99/24. (20) J.C.S. minutes, 15/1,16/l/43, Meetings, Reel 1; FRUS, Casablanca, U.S. delegation minutes, 15/1/43" 559-60. (21) C.C.S. minutes, 16/1/43, CAB99/24; Pogue, 21, emphasized the tension apparent at this point. (22) J.C.S. minutes, 17/1/43, Meetings, Reel 1; C.O.S. minutes, 17/1/43, C.C.S. minutes, 17/1/43, CAB99/24. (23) J.C.S. minutes, 18/1/43, Meetings, Reel 1; C.C.S. minutes, 18/1/43, CAB99/24; FRUS, Casablanca, U.S. delegation minutes, 16/1/43, 594-600, C.C.S. minutes, 18/1/43, 613-26. (24) C.C.S. minutes, 18/1/43, CAB99/24; Brooke diary, 18/1/43 entry, (Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives, King's College, London, Brooke MSS), 3/A/VIII; Pogue, 29-30, 32; D. Richards, Portal of Hungerford (London, 1977), pp. 257-60. (25) "Plenary session minutes, 18/1/43, CAB99/24; FRUS, Casablanca, Plenary Session, 18/1/43, 627-37. (26) Plenary session minutes, 18/1/43, CAB99/24; Wilt "The Significance of the Casablanca Decisions," P. 528 is unconvincing on a significant point extending beyond King's attitude (see p. 28). (27) C.C.S. minutes, 20/1,21/1,22/1/43, C.O.S. minutes, 20/1,21/1/43, CAB99/24; Brooke diary, 13/1, 20/1/43 entries, 3/A/VIII; J.C.S. minutes, 17/1, 20/1, 21/1/43, Meetings, Reel 1. (28) "C.C.S. minutes, 21/1/43, CAB99/24. (29) C.C.S. minutes, 15/1, 18/1, 21/1/43, CAB99/24; J.C.S. minutes, 21/1/43, Meetings, Reel 1. (30) C.C.S. minute-s, 14/1,15/1,21/1/43, CAB99/24; privately, the J.C.S. agreed to accept Portal's role only until U.S. forces were larger and their methods proven: J.C.S. minutes, 21/1/43, Meetings, Reel 1; Richards, Portal, pp. 257-60; R.J. Overy, The Air War 1939-1945 (London, 1980), p. 74. (31) CCS165/2, 22/1/43, Plenary session minutes, 23/1/43, CAB99/24; FRUS, Casablanca, CCS170/2, 23/1/43; M. Gilbert, Road to Victory (London, 1989, first published 1986), pp. 300-13; the argument in Kimball, The Juggler, p. 73, that the final accord largely confirmed the existing views of Churchill and Roosevelt, overlooks this crucial difference in fundamental disposition. (32) MA. Stoler, The Politics of the Second Front (Westport, 1978) p. 78, and K.R. Greenfield, American Strategy in World War II (Baltimore, 1963), p. 32, well understood the mutual suspicions and pressures that shaped the final accord. Wedemeyer, 189-90, summed up the deeper suspicions held in U.S. ranks; Wilt, "The Significance of the Casablanca Decision," pp. 518-28, makes the useful point that the SYMBOL directive laid down the broad basis for subsequent Allied grand strategy, but overlooks the real failure of the C.C.S. to agree on a basic approach and pursue it by design rather than in reaction to circumstances. (33) J.C.S. minutes, 19/1/43, Meetings, Reel 1; Brooke strongly supported Portal's case: C.C.S. minutes, 21/1/43, CAB99/24; N. Frankland & C. Webster, The Strategic Air Offensive against Germany, vol. 2 (London, 1961), p. 12. (34) See above pp.13-17, and compare to the explicit challenge recorded in FRUS, Casablanca, C.C.S. minutes, 16/1/43, 580-94. (35) FRUS, Casablanca, drafts and notes for press conference, 20-23/1/43, 830-38, transcript of press conference, 24/1/43, 725-31; Diplomacy and Intelligence during the Second World War, ed. R. Langhorne (Cambridge, 1985), pp. 224-26; J. Wheeler-Bennett & A. Nicholls, The Semblance of Peace (London, 1972), pp. 56-64; Matloff & Snell, Strategic Planning 1941-1942, p. 379; A. Armstrong, Unconditional Surrender (New Brunswick, NJ, 1961), was the first really comprehensive treatment, but it has not stood up well. (36) Wheeler-Bennett & Nicholls, The Semblance of Peace, p. 60; M. Howard, Grand Strategy, vol. 4 (London, 1972), p. 284; M. Balfour, Propaganda in War 1939-1945 (London, 1979), p. 315. (37) Hoffmann, "The Question of Western Allied Co-operation with the German Anti-Nazi Conspiracy," Historical Journal, xxxiv, 1991, pp. 449-51; WP(42)311,21/7/42 (P.R.O.), CAB66/26, for an emphatic statement of Churchill's position. (38) Hoffman, "Western Allied Co-operation," pp. 452-64; G. Schollgen, "Another Germany: the Secret Foreign Office contacts of Ulrich von Hassel during the Second World War," International History Review, xi, 1989, pp. 649-67; Churchill, The Hinge of Fate, pp. 595-600. The strongest criticism of the policy from staff circles on the grounds that it needlessly abandoned the German Resistance was expressed by an American, Wedemeyer, as a central theme in his memoirs. His uncompromising assessment of the Casablanca decision is on p. 169. (39) Wilt, "The Significance of the Casablanca Decision," p. 519, offers a very different assessment of unconditional surrender and British grand strategy. (40) Brooke diary, 20/1, 22/1, 23/1/43 entries, 3/A/VIII; Brooke to Grigg, 23/1/43 (Churchill College Archives, Cambridge), Grigg MSS, 9/7/14; COS(43)46, 12/2/43, CAB80/39. (41) War Cabinet minutes, confidential annex, 7/2/43, CAB65/37; C.C.S. minutes, 5/2/43, CAB88/2; Brooke to Grigg 23/1/43, Grigg MSS, 9/7/14. (42) J.C.S. minutes, 7/1, 16/1, 6/4, 27/4 Supplementary, 10/4, 4/5, 6/8, 7/8, 9/8, 10/8/43, Meetings, Reel 1, for the reaction to Casablanca and the marked change in J.C.S. practice, a point which, more than anything else, undermines two of the key arguments in Wilt, "The Significance of the Casablanca Decisions," pp. 528-29; see also Wedemeyer, 185-86,191-92, 215-16, and Pogue, 197; Brooke diary, 20/1, 23/1/43 entries, 3/A/VIII. (43) "W.S. Dunn, Second Front Now - 1943 Alabama, 1979), pp. 31-32, C. D'Este, Bitter Victory (London, 1988), p. 51, and T. Higgins, Winston Churchill and the Second Front 1940-1943, p. 184, are all examples of the one level trade-off thesis; Matloff & Snell, Strategic Planning 1941-1942, p. 381, is the standard non-decision thesis, expanded by R.M. Leighton & R.A. Coakley, Global Logistics 1940-1943 (Washington, 1955) p. 661. (44) Howard, Grand Strategy, vol. 4, pp. 244-73; M. Matloff, Strategic Planning for Coalition Warfare 1943-1944 (Washington, 1959), pp. 30-42; Overy, The Air War, p. 74; Wilt, "The Significance of the Casablanca Decisions," pp. 518-29, lays the non-decision case to rest. (45) Interestingly, Kimball in the Juggler, despite a broader focus, also saw the conference as the reflection of clearly paradoxical situations: unconditional surrender as reflecting the Roosevelt-Churchill view that the U.K. and the U.S. would still be able to impose a settlement, even though their grand strategy leaned heavily on the Red Army, the distinct feeling that Casablanca was simultaneously the apex and the end of a U.K.-U.S. condominium.
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Author:Farrell, Brian P.
Publication:Canadian Journal of History
Date:Apr 1, 1993
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