Morgenthau argues for direct action to help the Jews


13 January 1944: Morgenthau argues for direct action to help the Jews

Despite the fact that time is most precious in this matter, State Department officials have been kicking the matter around for over a year without producing results; giving all sorts of excuses for delays upon delays; advancing no specific proposals designed to rescue Jews, at the same time proposing that the whole refugee problem be “explored” by this Government and Intergovernmental Committees.

Although the Allies had substantial evidence of the Holocaust by 1944, the true scale of what the Nazis were doing was not fully realised until the camps were liberated and pictures emerged.  Starved prisoners, nearly dead from hunger, pose in concentration camp in Ebensee, Austria. The camp was reputedly used for "scientific" experiments. It was liberated by the 80th Division. May 7, 1945. Lt. A. E. Samuelson. (Army)
Although the Allies had substantial evidence of the Holocaust by 1944, the true scale of what the Nazis were doing was not fully realised until the camps were liberated and pictures emerged.
Starved prisoners, nearly dead from hunger, pose in concentration camp in Ebensee, Austria. The camp was reputedly used for “scientific” experiments. It was liberated by the 80th Division. May 7, 1945. Lt. A. E. Samuelson. (Army)

While Roosevelt was setting out his objectives for post war security, not every member of his administration was was confident that they were doing all they could to prevent current Nazi crimes against the Jews.

When US Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, the only Jewish member of Roosevelt’s cabinet, tried to establish mechanisms to assist Jews to leave Europe he ran into perceived obstruction from the State Department

Treasury officials John Pehle, Randolph Paul, and Josiah DuBois presented Morgenthau with an 18-page memorandum entitled “Report to the Secretary on the Acquiescence of This Government in the Murder of Jews” on January 13, 1944. The report formed the basis for Morgenthau’s discussion with Roosevelt on 16th January:

One of the greatest crimes in history, the slaughter of the Jewish people in Europe, is continuing unabated.

This Government has for a long time maintained that its policy is to work out programs to serve those Jews of Europe who could be saved.

I am convinced on the basis of the information which is available to me that certain officials in our State Department, which is charged with carrying out this policy, have been guilty not only of gross procrastination and wilful failure to act, but even of wilful attempts to prevent action from being taken to rescue Jews from Hitler.

I fully recognize the graveness of this statement and I make it only after having most carefully weighed the shocking facts which have come to my attention during the last several months.

Unless remedial steps of a drastic nature are taken, and taken immediately, I am certain that no effective action will be taken by this government to prevent the complete extermination of the Jews in German controlled Europe, and that this Government will have to share for all time responsibility for this extermination.

Although only part of the facts relating to the activities of the State Department in this field are available to us, sufficient facts have come to my attention from various sources during the last several months to fully support the conclusions at which I have arrived.

(1) State Department officials have not only failed to use the Governmental machinery at their disposal to rescue the Jews from Hitler, but have even gone so far as to use this Governmental machinery to prevent the rescue of these Jews.

The public record, let alone the facts which have not as yet been made pubic, reveals the gross procrastination and wilful failure to act of those officials actively representing this Government in this field.

(a) A long time has passed since it became clear that Hitler was determined to carry out a policy of exterminating the Jews in Europe.

(b) Over a year has elapsed since this Government and other members of the United Nations publicly acknowledged and denounced this policy of extermination; and since the President gave assurances that the United States would make every effort together with the United Nations to save those who could be saved.

(c) Despite the fact that time is most precious in this matter, State Department officials have been kicking the matter around for over a year without producing results; giving all sorts of excuses for delays upon delays; advancing no specific proposals designed to rescue Jews, at the same time proposing that the whole refugee problem be “explored” by this Government and Intergovernmental Committees. While the State Department has been thus “exploring” the whole refugee problem, without distinguishing between those who are in imminent danger of death and those who are not, hundreds of thousands of Jews have been allowed to perish.

The full text of the report can be found at PBS American Experience Primary Reference.

As a consequence of the meeting President Roosevelt issued an executive order establishing the War Refugee Board (WRB) on January 22, 1944.

It is the policy of this government to take all measures within its power to rescue the victims of enemy oppression who are in imminent danger of death and otherwise to afford such victims all possible relief and assistance consistent with the successful prosecution of the war.

The War Refugee Board is estimated to have save the lives of around 200,000 Jews from eastern Europe by funding emigration.

The railway entrance to Auschwitz in January1945.
The railway entrance to Auschwitz in January1945.

Roosevelt sets out a vision for the future


11 January 1944: Roosevelt sets out a vision for the future

The best interests of each Nation, large and small, demand that all freedom-loving Nations shall join together in a just and durable system of peace. In the present world situation, evidenced by the actions of Germany, Italy, and Japan, unquestioned military control over disturbers of the peace is as necessary among Nations as it is among citizens in a community.

President Franklin D Roosevelt broadcasting to the American people from the White House following his State of the Union address to Congress on 11 January 1944.
President Franklin D Roosevelt broadcasting to the American people from the White House following his State of the Union address to Congress on 11 January 1944.

In early 1944 Roosevelt was not a well man. The trip to Cairo to see Churchill and then on to Tehran for the ‘Big Three’ summit with Stalin had exhausted him. On the return he had caught influenza from which he was still recovering. So he chose to make his ‘State of the Union’ address by radio, as one of his ‘fireside chats’ to the whole nation.

He had a number of messages to get across. Not least was to guard against complacency – the war was not yet won. He also wanted to remind people what they were fighting for. Not only did he want a better system of international security between nations but he also wanted set the terms for better social security at home.

The outlook and hopes expressed here were to have a profound impact on the post war settlement, at least insofar as the democratic nations were able implement them:

This Nation in the past two years has become an active partner in the world’s greatest war against human slavery.

We have joined with like-minded people in order to defend ourselves in a world that has been gravely threatened with gangster rule.

But I do not think that any of us Americans can be content with mere survival. Sacrifices that we and our allies are making impose upon us all a sacred obligation to see to it that out of this war we and our children will gain something better than mere survival.

The one supreme objective for the future, which we discussed for each Nation individually, and for all the United Nations, can be summed up in one word: Security.

And that means not only physical security which provides safety from attacks by aggressors. It means also economic security, social security, moral security — in a family of Nations.

In the plain down-to-earth talks that I had with the Generalissimo and Marshal Stalin and Prime Minister Churchill, it was abundantly clear that they are all most deeply interested in the resumption of peaceful progress by their own peoples — progress toward a better life. All our allies want freedom to develop their lands and resources, to build up industry, to increase education and individual opportunity, and to raise standards of living.

All our allies have learned by bitter experience that real development will not be possible if they are to be diverted from their purpose by repeated wars — or even threats of war.

China and Russia are truly united with Britain and America in recognition of this essential fact:

The best interests of each Nation, large and small, demand that all freedom-loving Nations shall join together in a just and durable system of peace. In the present world situation, evidenced by the actions of Germany, Italy, and Japan, unquestioned military control over disturbers of the peace is as necessary among Nations as it is among citizens in a community.

And an equally basic essential to peace is a decent standard of living for all individual men and women and children in all Nations. Freedom from fear is eternally linked with freedom from want.

It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people—whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth- is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill housed, and insecure.

The foreign policy that we have been following—the policy that guided us at Moscow, Cairo, and Teheran—is based on the common sense principle which was best expressed by Benjamin Franklin on July 4, 1776: “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

I have often said that there are no two fronts for America in this war. There is only one front. There is one line of unity which extends from the hearts of the people at home to the men of our attacking forces in our farthest outposts. When we speak of our total effort, we speak of the factory and the field, and the mine as well as of the battleground – we speak of the soldier and the civilian, the citizen and his Government.

Each and every one of us has a solemn obligation under God to serve this Nation in its most critical hour—to keep this Nation great – to make this Nation greater in a better world.

The whole speech can be read at the Franklin D Roosevelt Library.

B-17 bombers being built by Boeing at their Seattle plant in 1943. In his address Roosevelt referred to  'Overconfidence and complacency are among our deadliest enemies. Last spring—after notable victories at Stalingrad and in Tunisia and against the U-boats on the high seas—overconfidence became so pronounced that war production fell off. In two months, June and July, 1943, more than a thousand airplanes that could have been made and should have been made were not made. Those who failed to make them were not on strike. They were merely saying, "The war's in the bag- so let's relax."'
B-17 bombers being built by Boeing at their Seattle plant in 1943. In his address Roosevelt referred to
‘Overconfidence and complacency are among our deadliest enemies. Last spring—after notable victories at Stalingrad and in Tunisia and against the U-boats on the high seas—overconfidence became so pronounced that war production fell off. In two months, June and July, 1943, more than a thousand airplanes that could have been made and should have been made were not made. Those who failed to make them were not on strike. They were merely saying, “The war’s in the bag- so let’s relax.”‘

Stalin to Churchill – ‘Let’s shoot top 50,000 Germans’


29th November 1943: Stalin to Churchill – ‘Let’s shoot top 50,000 Germans’

Presently Elliott Roosevelt, who had own out to join his father, appeared at the door, and somebody beckoned him to come in. He therefore took his seat at the table. He even intervened in the conversation, and has since given a highly coloured and extremely misleading account of what he heard. Stalin, as Hopkins recounts, indulged in a great deal of “teasing” of me, which I did not at all resent until the Marshal entered in a genial manner upon a serious and even deadly aspect of the punishment to be inflicted upon the Germans.

The 'Big Three' - Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill mat at Tehran at the end of November 1943.
The ‘Big Three’ – Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill met at Tehran at the end of November 1943.

In Tehran the ‘big three’, Joseph Stalin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill were meeting for their first conference together. Stalin was to press Churchill on whether he was truly committed to the opening of a ‘Second Front’. The decision to invade France had been made by the U.S. and Britain at the Quebec Conference in August. The planning and preparation for Operation Overlord was now proceeding apace. However Stalin was not satisfied until he saw Churchill personally.

In the evening of 29th November there was a dinner hosted by Stalin. The Allies were already beginning to formally address how they were to deal with Germany after the war. During the evening Stalin and Churchill were to argue over the issue – after they had drunk ‘many toasts’.

How serious Stalin was about shooting the ‘top 50,000 German officers’ can only be guessed. Probably Churchill would not have referred to the matter again publicly. However, when the President’s son Elliot Roosevelt later published an account of the exchange, Churchill felt the need to set the record straight in his post war memoirs. It was not the first time, and it would not be the last, that Elliot Roosevelt was accused of embellishing the facts:

Stalin was our host at dinner. The company was strictly limited – Stalin and Molotov, the President, Hopkins, Harriman, Clark Kerr, myself and Eden, and our interpreters. After the labours of the Conference, there was a good deal of gaiety, and many toasts were proposed.

Presently Elliott Roosevelt, who had flown out to join his father, appeared at the door, and somebody beckoned him to come in. He therefore took his seat at the table. He even intervened in the conversation, and has since given a highly coloured and extremely misleading account of what he heard.

Stalin, as Hopkins recounts, indulged in a great deal of “teasing” of me, which I did not at all resent until the Marshal entered in a genial manner upon a serious and even deadly aspect of the punishment to be inflicted upon the Germans.

The German General Staff, he said, must be liquidated. The whole force of Hitler’s mighty armies depended upon about fifty thousand officers and technicians. If these were rounded up and shot at the end of the war, German military strength would be extirpated.

On this I thought it right to say: “The British Parliament and public will never tolerate mass executions. Even if in war passion they allowed them to begin, they would turn violently against those responsible after the first butchery had taken place. The Soviets must be under no delusion on this point.”

Stalin however, perhaps only in mischief, pursued the subject. “Fifty thousand,” he said, “must be shot.” I was deeply angered. “I would rather,” I said, “be taken out into the garden here and now and be shot myself than sully my own and my country’s honour by such infamy.”

At this point the President intervened. He had a compromise to propose. Not fifty thousand should be shot, but only forty-nine thousand. By this he hoped, no doubt, to reduce the whole matter to ridicule. Eden also made signs and gestures intended to reassure me that it was all a joke.

But now Elliott Roosevelt rose in his place at the end of the table and made a speech, saying how cordially he agreed with Marshal Stalin’s plan and how sure he was that the United States Army would support it.

At this intrusion I got up and left the table, walking off into the next room, which was in semi-darkness. I had not been there a minute before hands were clapped upon my shoulders from behind, and there was Stalin, with Molotov at his side, both grinning broadly, and eagerly declaring that they were only playing, and that nothing of a serious character had entered their heads.

Stalin has a very captivating manner when he chooses to use it, and I never saw him do so to such an extent as at this moment. Although I was not then, and am not now, fully convinced that all was chaff and there was no serious intent lurking behind, I consented to return, and the rest of the evening passed pleasantly.

See Winston Churchill: The Hinge Of Fate (The Second World War Vol 4).

In this context it must be remembered that Stalin had ordered the killing of 15,000 Polish officers in 1940, whose bodies were found by the Nazis in the forest of Katyn. It seems doubtful that Stalin would have had any qualms about dealing with the leadership of the German army in the same way. The informal context of putting the proposal to Churchill and Roosevelt suggests he did not really expect them to agree.

Brig. Gen. Elliott Roosevelt, Commander, 325th Photographic WIng (Reconnaissance) 1944-45.
Brig. Gen. Elliott Roosevelt, Commander, 325th Photographic WIng (Reconnaissance) 1944-45.
The following evening. Winston Churchill with President Roosevelt and Marshal Stalin at a dinner party at the British Legation in Tehran on the occasion of Churchill's 69th birthday, 30 November 1943.
The following evening. Winston Churchill with President Roosevelt and Marshal Stalin at a dinner party at the British Legation in Tehran on the occasion of Churchill’s 69th birthday, 30 November 1943.

Lord Mountbatten demonstrates bullet proof ice


19th August 1943: Overlord approved – Mountbatten demonstrates Habakkuk

Dickie then proceeded to explain that the cube on the left was ordinary pure ice, whereas that an the right contained many ingredients which made it far more resilient, less liable to splinter, and consequently a far more suitable material for the construction of aircraft carriers. He then informed us that in order to prove his statements he had brought a revolver with him and intended to fire shots at the cubes to prove their properties.

Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King, President of the United States of America Franklin D Roosevelt, and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in conversation during the Quebec conference on 18 August 1943.
Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King, President of the United States of America Franklin D Roosevelt, and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in conversation during the Quebec conference on 18 August 1943.

The 19th August 1943 was a momentous day for the Allies as, meeting in Quebec, they finally agreed on the timetable for the invasion of Europe and the establishment of the long awaited Second Front. The Americans had argued for an invasion of France almost since they first joined the war. The British were much less enthusiastic. Largely based on their experiences in France in 1940 and at Dieppe in 1942, they were reluctant to move until they could be confident, not only of landing an invasion force on a hostile shore, but of keeping it properly supplied for an advance into Germany itself.

The secret development of the Mulberry Harbours was to be the war winning innovation that enabled the British to finally accede to American demands to fix a date for ‘Overlord’. The planning for the invasion of France could proceed without the capture of an existing port being an early priority.

But the Chief of Combined Operations was an enthusiastic supporter of another secret project – Habakkuk – the building of massive unsinkable aircraft carriers made from ice. Or rather specially re-enforced bullet proof ice.

Whilst the British Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Sir Alan Brooke was preoccupied with his discussion with George Marshall, US Chief of Staff, he also had to contend with Lord Louis ‘Dickie’ Mountbatten:

Dickie had come up to me just before our Combined COS [the Chiefs of Staff of the UK and the USA] meeting, at which I knew I was going to have difficulties with Marshall, and asked me if he might explain to the Americans the progress that had been made with ’Habbakuk’. I am afraid that I replied ’To hell with Habbakuk, we are about to have the most difficult time with our American friends and shall not have time for your ice carriers.’ However, he went on asking that I should remember if there was time.

The meeting was, as I expected, a heated one, and halfway through I suggested to Marshall that we should clear the room of the sixty odd officers that had attended these meetings, and that we should have an ’off the record’ meeting to try and solve our differences. He agreed, and after further heated arguments in our closed session we ultimately arrived at an agreement and were just breaking up the meeting when Dickie rushed up to remind me of ‘Habbakuk’!

I therefore asked Marshall if he and the American Chiefs would allow Dickie to give an account of recent developments in Habbakuk. He kindly agreed and we all sat down again.

Dickie now having been let loose gave a signal, whereupon a string of attendants brought in large cubes of ice which were established at the end of the room.

Dickie then proceeded to explain that the cube on the left was ordinary pure ice, whereas that an the right contained many ingredients which made it far more resilient, less liable to splinter, and consequently a far more suitable material for the construction of aircraft carriers. He then informed us that in order to prove his statements he had brought a revolver with him and intended to fire shots at the cubes to prove their properties.

As he now pulled a revolver out of his pocket we all rose and discreetly moved behind him. He then wamed us that he would fire at the ordinary block of ice to show how it splintered and warned us to watch the splinters. He proceeded to fire and we were subjected to a hail of ice splinters!

‘There,’ said Dickie, ’that is just what I told you; now I shall fire at the block on the right to show you the difference.’ He fired, and there certainly was a difference; the bullet rebounded out of the block and buzzed round our legs like an angry bee!

That was the end of the display of shooting in the Frontenac Hotel drawing rooms, but it was not the end of the story.

It will be remembered that when our original meeting had become too heated, we had cleared the room of all the attending staff. They were waiting in an adjoining room, and when the revolver shots were heard, the wag of the party shouted: ’Good heavens, they’ve started shooting now!!’

For more on Habakkuk see an account by Sir Charles Goodeve at UCL University of London.

Chief of Combined Operations: Mountbatten with Combined Chiefs of Staff at the Quebec Conference of 1943. Left to right (at Chateau Frontenac): Lord Louis Mountbatten, Admiral of the Fleet Sir Dudley Pound, General Sir Alan Brooke, Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles Portal, Air Marshal L S Breadner, Field Marshal Sir John Dill, Lieutenant General Sir Hastings Ismay, Admiral E J King, General H H Arnold, Admiral W D Leahy, Lieutenant General K Stuart, Vice Admiral P W Nelles and General G C Marshal.
Chief of Combined Operations: Mountbatten with Combined Chiefs of Staff at the Quebec Conference of 1943. Left to right (at Chateau Frontenac): Lord Louis Mountbatten, Admiral of the Fleet Sir Dudley Pound, General Sir Alan Brooke, Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles Portal, Air Marshal L S Breadner, Field Marshal Sir John Dill, Lieutenant General Sir Hastings Ismay, Admiral E J King, General H H Arnold, Admiral W D Leahy, Lieutenant General K Stuart, Vice Admiral P W Nelles and General G C Marshal.

Contemporary US newsreel covering bombing of Hamburg and quebec conference:

Roosevelt and Churchill appeal to the Italians


17th July 1943: Roosevelt and Churchill appeal to the Italians

Your soldiers have fought, not in the interests of Italy, but for Nazi Germany. They have fought courageously, but they have been betrayed and abandoned by the Germans on the Russian Front and on every battlefield in Africa from El Alamein to Cape Bon. Today Germany’s hopes for world conquest have been blasted on all fronts. The skies over Italy are dominated by the vast air armadas of the United States and Great Britain. Italy’s seacoasts are threatened by the greatest accumulation of British and Allied sea-power ever concentrated in the Mediterranean.

A captured Italian 305mm gun being fired at night by the British during the Battle for Catania. This was the biggest gun used during the campaign.
A captured Italian 305mm gun being fired at night by the British during the Battle for Catania. This was the biggest gun used during the campaign.
A soldier guards a group of German and Italian prisoners taken at Noto, 12 July 1943.
A soldier guards a group of German and Italian prisoners taken at Noto, 12 July 1943.

The Italians had not had a good war. Even though Mussolini was in alliance with Germany in the ‘Pact of Steel’ he had still not entered the war until he thought both France and Britain were beaten and he could grab a little of the spoils of victory. All his other military adventures had ended in disaster.

He had been thrown out of East Africa. In the Balkans his attempt to invade tiny, poor Albania had seen a reverse campaign which put him on the defensive. Humiliatingly Germany had had to come to his rescue both there and in North Africa, where the British had achieved stunning victories until the Afrika Korps arrived. On the Eastern Front Italian troops had suffered grievously in the retreat following Stalingrad.

Now it did not need much Intelligence from captured Italian prisoners for the Allies to judge the state of morale amongst Italians and Italian troops. The Sicilian troops on Sicily were not making making valiant attempts to defend their homeland, as had been hoped. Instead in many places they were putting up a merely nominal fight before surrendering. Others were ‘self- demobilising’ as they returned to their homes around the island and found civilian clothes.

Now Roosevelt and Churchill appealed directly to Italians to try to edge them out of the war. It was a message re-inforced with threat – Rome would be bombed for the first time on 19th July. This was the carefully worded text that was dropped, in hundreds of thousands of leaflets, on Rome and other Italian cities on the 17th July:

This is a message to the Italian people from the President of the United States of America and the Prime Minister of Great Britain. At this moment the combined armed forces of the United States and Great Britain, under the command of General Eisenhower and his Deputy, General Alexander, are carrying the war deep into the territory of your country.

This is the direct consequence of the shameful leadership to which you have been subjected by Mussolini and his Fascist regime. Mussolini carried you into this war as the satellite of a brutal destroyer of peoples and liberties.

Mussolini plunged you into a war which he thought Hitler had already won. In spite of Italy’s great vulnerability to attack by air and sea, your Fascist leaders sent your sons, your ships, your air forces, to distant battlefields to aid Germany in her attempt to conquer England, Russia, and the world. This association with the designs of Nazi-controlled Germany was unworthy of Italy’s ancient traditions of freedom and culture – traditions to which the people of America and Great Britain owe so much.

Your soldiers have fought, not in the interests of Italy, but for Nazi Germany. They have fought courageously, but they have been betrayed and abandoned by the Germans on the Russian Front and on every battlefield in Africa from El Alamein to Cape Bon.

Today Germany’s hopes for world conquest have been blasted on all fronts. The skies over Italy are dominated by the vast air armadas of the United States and Great Britain. Italy’s seacoasts are threatened by the greatest accumulation of British and Allied sea-power ever concentrated in the Mediterranean.

The forces now opposed to you are pledged to destroy the power of Nazi Germany, which has ruthlessly been used to inict slavery, destruction, and death on all those who refuse to recognise the Germans as the master race.

The sole hope for Italy’s survival lies in honourable capitulation to the overwhelming power of the military forces of the United Nations. If you continue to tolerate the Fascist régime, which serves the evil power of the Nazis, you must suffer the consequences of your own choice.

We take no satisfaction in invading Italian soil and bringing the tragic devastation of war home to the Italian people; but we are determined to destroy the false leaders and their doctrines which have brought Italy to her present position. Every moment that you resist the combined forces of the United Nations – every drop of blood that you sacrice-can serve only one purpose: to give the Fascist and Nazi leaders a little more time to escape from the inevitable consequences of their own crimes.

All your interests and all your traditions have been betrayed by Germany and your own false and corrupt leaders; it is only by disavowing both that a reconstituted Italy can hope to occupy a respected place in the family of European nations.

The time has now come for you, the Italian people, to consult your own self-respect and your own interests and your own desire for a restoration of national dignity, security, and peace.

The time has come for you to decide whether Italians shall die for Mussolini and Hitler – or live for Italy, and for civilisation.

ROOSEVELT
CHURCHILL

A civilian resident of Misterbianco, near Catania, paints the slogan 'Viva England' on a wall after the village had been occupied by the Eighth Army.
A civilian resident of Misterbianco, near Catania, paints the slogan ‘Viva England’ on a wall after the village had been occupied by the Eighth Army.
Troops play with small children near Solarino, 13 July 1943.
Troops play with small children near Solarino, 13 July 1943.

Roosevelt calls for ‘Unconditional Surrender’

24th January 1943: Roosevelt calls for ‘Unconditional Surrender’

We had so much trouble getting those two French generals together that I thought to myself that this was as difficult as arranging the meeting of Grant and Lee – and then suddenly the Press Conference was on, and Winston and I had had no time to prepare for it, and the thought popped into my mind that they had called Grant “Old Unconditional Surrender”, and the next thing I knew I had said it.

President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill at the Villa in Casablanca where the conference were held.
President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill at the Villa in Casablanca where the conference were held.

On the 24th January 1943 Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt held a secret Press conference at the conclusion of their meeting in Casablanca. The notion of such an arrangement is unthinkable today but the Press agreed not to release their material until both Churchill and Roosevelt were both safely away from Casablanca.

Some of the key decisions for the future conduct of the war had been thrashed out between the Allies. One matter was the demand for ‘unconditional surrender’ – a proposition which some have later argued made any possible early negotiated end to the war out of the question.

There was some surprise that President Roosevelt announced that the Allies would be seeking unconditional surrender from the Axis forces. There was subsequently some suggestion that he made the proposal ‘off the top of his head’ during the Press conference but this is clearly not the case.

Winston Churchill had already been in communication with the War Cabinet in London about the issue:

We propose to draw up a statement of the work of the conference for communication to the Press at the proper time. I should be glad to know what the War Cabinet would think of our including in this statement a declaration of the firm intention of the United States and the British Empire to continue the war relentlessly until we have brought about the “unconditional surrender” of Germany and Japan. The omission of Italy would be to encourage a break-up there. The President liked this idea, and it would stimulate our friends in every country.

The War Cabinet had responded to him on the 20th January, stating that they did not think Italy should not be excluded. Churchill seems to have believed that the matter would be further discussed but both he and Roosevelt were became very occupied whilst dealing with General de Gaulle.

It seems probable that as I did not like applying unconditional surrender to Italy I did not raise the point again with the President, and we had certainly both agreed to the communiqué we had settled with our advisers. There is no mention in it of “unconditional surrender”.

So the matter had been under discussion but it had not been part of the joint communique that Britain and America had agreed in advance.

President Franklin D Roosevelt of the United States confers with the Prime Minister of Britain, Winston Churchill during a press conference at the villa of Dar-es-Saada during the Casablanca Conference in Morocco, 24 January 1943.
President Franklin D Roosevelt of the United States confers with the Prime Minister of Britain, Winston Churchill during a press conference at the villa of Dar-es-Saada during the Casablanca Conference in Morocco, 24 January 1943.

It was with some feeling of surprise that I heard the President say at the Press Conference on January 24 that we would enforce “unconditional surrender” upon all our enemies. It was natural to suppose that the agreed communiqué had superseded anything said in conversation. General Ismay, who knew exactly how my mind was working from day to day, and was also present at all the discussions of the Chiefs of Staff when the Communiqué was prepared, was also surprised.

In my speech which followed the President’s I of course supported him and concurred in what he had said. Any divergence between us, even by omission, would on such an occasion and at such a time have been damaging or even dangerous to our war effort. I certainly take my share of the responsibility, together with the British War Cabinet.

General Henri Giraud, President Franklin D Roosevelt, General Charles de Gaulle and Prime Minister Winston Churchill sit together during the Casablanca Conference in Morocco in January 1943.
General Henri Giraud, President Franklin D Roosevelt, General Charles de Gaulle and Prime Minister Winston Churchill sit together during the Casablanca Conference in Morocco in January 1943.

The President’s account to Hopkins seems however conclusive.

“We had so much trouble getting those two French generals together that I thought to myself that this was as difficult as arranging the meeting of Grant and Lee – and then suddenly the Press Conference was on, and Winston and I had had no time to prepare for it, and the thought popped into my mind that they had called Grant “Old Unconditional Surrender”, and the next thing I knew I had said it.”

I do not feel that this frank statement is in any way weakened by the fact that the phrase occurs in the notes from which he spoke.

See Winston Churchill: The Hinge of Fate.

Churchill and Roosevelt meet at Casablanca

14th January 1943: Churchill and Roosevelt meet at Casablanca

Admiral King then did so, and it became clear at once that his idea was an ‘all-out’ war against Japan instead of holding operations. He then proposed that 30 per cent of the war effort should be directed to the Pacific and 70 per cent to the rest. We pointed out that this was hardly a scientific way of approaching war strategy!

The Casablanca Conference 14-24 January 1943. The President of the United States Franklin D Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill seated in the garden of the villa where the conference was held. Grouped behind them are British and American chiefs of staff.
The Casablanca Conference 14-24 January 1943. The President of the United States Franklin D Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill seated in the garden of the villa where the conference was held. Grouped behind them are British and American chiefs of staff.

On the 14th January the British and Americans met for a conference on war strategy in Casablanca, North Africa. There was much to discuss. In principal there was agreement on the policy of ‘Germany first’, although there were those in the American party who were not wholly signed up to this. There was also a divergence of views about where next to attack Germany after North Africa, with the Americans still favouring an invasion of France later in 1943.

The Combined Chiefs of Staff meant the heads of the military professions from Britain and the U.S.A.. So this was a meeting of some very strong minded individuals. Their job was to thrash out the future progress of the war. There were some fairly stormy meetings ahead.

Amongst those present keeping a diary was Sir Alan Brooke, the British Chief of the Imperial General Staff. His candid account of events was not published until long after the war:

14 January (2 am)

A very long and laborious day. Breakfast at 8.30 am followed by one and a half hour’s hard work preparing my opening statement for our first meeting with the American Chiefs of Staff.

At 10.30 we met. I started off with a statement of about one hour giving our outlook on the present war situation and our opinion as to the future policy we should adopt. Marshall then followed on with a statement showing where they disagreed with our policy.

We stopped for lunch and met again at 2.30 pm. I then asked them to explain their views as to the running of the Pacific War. Admiral King then did so, and it became clear at once that his idea was an ‘all-out’ war against Japan instead of holding operations.

He then proposed that 30 per cent of the war effort should be directed to the Pacific and 70 per cent to the rest. We pointed out that this was hardly a scientific way of approaching war strategy!

After considerable argument we got them to agree to our detailing the Combined Planners to examine and report on the minimum holding operations required in the Pacific and forces necessary for that action.

We broke up the meeting at about 5 pm, had tea, and then had a meeting with our joint Planners to instruct them on the line of action to take.

I then went for a walk with John Kennedy to the beach to look for birds. Returned to find invitation to dine with the President who had arrived that afternoon.

Party consisted of PM, President, Harry Hopkins, Harriman, Elliot Roosevelt, Marshall, King, Arnold, Dudley Pound, Portal, Mountbatten and self.

King became nicely lit up towards the end of the evening. As a result he got more and more pompous, and with a thick voice and many gesticulations explained to the President the best way to organize the Political French organization for control of North Africa!

This led to many arguments with PM who failed to appreciate fully the condition King was in! Most amusing to watch.

At about 1.30 am an alarm was received, lights were put out, and we sat around the table with faces lit by 6 candles. The PM and President in that light and surroundings would have made a wonderful picture.

See Alanbrooke War Diaries 1939-1945: Field Marshall Lord Alanbrooke

New Year celebrations in the Desert

Last night, Old Year’s Eve, there was an outburst of firing. It began at the stroke of midnight with a few isolated Very lights. Then a burst of tracers went up in a few minutes like a kind of fever men were firing weapons all over the brigade. Wherever you looked grinning men were sending up this incredible fireworks display. No one protested.

British forces had just occupied Benghazi and for a time the Germans were on the run.
German transport column on the Agheila-Agedabia road, south of Benghazi, under cannon attack from Bristol Blenheim of No. 113 Squadron RAF. The first two lorries are running off the road. Date unknown but No. 113 Squadron were transferred to the Far East early in 1942.

Last night, Old Year’s Eve, there was an outburst of firing. It began at the stroke of midnight with a few isolated Very lights. Then a burst of tracers went up in a few minutes like a kind of fever men were firing weapons all over the brigade. Wherever you looked grinning men were sending up this incredible fireworks display. No one protested.

It went on until staff cars from brigade began to turn up, shouting orders to ‘Cease fire!’. Slowly the demonstration fizzled out. It must have cost a fortune but it was one way of showing our disillusion against a frustrating campaign and a year of ill grace for British arms.

James Ambrose Brown wrote one of the outstanding accounts of the Desert war in his diary, Retreat to Victory: Springboks’ Diary in North Africa – Gazala to El Alamein, 1942 (South Africans at War).

There were perhaps grounds for celebration, although millions would not live to see the fruits of the agreement to create a new international organisation “The United Nations”. At the last moment Franklin D. Roosevelt had proposed this new title rather than the “Associated Nations” under which the development of the [permalink id=13160 text=”Atlantic Charter”] into a more wide ranging treaty, encompassing many nations, had been proposed.

Churchill was [permalink id=15559 text=”staying at the White House”] and provides an illuminating insight into the informal circumstances in which it was agreed between himself and the President:

The President was wheeled-in to me on the morning of January 1. I got out of my bath, and agreed to the draft.

The Declaration could not by itself win battles, but it set forth who we were and what we were fighting for. On New Year’s Day President Roosevelt, I, Litvinov, and Soong, representing China, signed this majestic document in the President’s study.

It was left to the State Department to collect the signatures of the remaining twenty-two nations. The final text must be recorded here.

See Winston Churchill – The Second World War, Volume 3: The Grand Alliance

The United Nations now had a declared common purpose:

Being convinced that complete victory over their enemies is essential to defend life, liberty, independence and religious freedom, and to preserve human rights and justice in their own lands as well as in other lands, and that they are now engaged in a common struggle against savage and brutal forces seeking to subjugate the world…

Winston Churchill arrives at the White House

I formed a very strong affection, which grew with our years of comradeship, for this formidable politician who had imposed his will for nearly ten years upon the American scene, and whose heart seemed to respond to many of the impulses that stirred my own. As we both, by need or habit, were forced to do much of our work in bed, he visited me in my room whenever he felt inclined, and encouraged me to do the same to him. Hopkins was just across the passage from my bedroom, and next door to him my travelling map room was soon installed.

The battleship HMS Duke of York crashes across the North Atlantic as it conveys Winston Churchill for a conference with Franklin D. Roosevelt. The journey took ten days.

There was some surprise when it was announced that Churchill had arrived in Washington, having crossed the U-Boat infested Atlantic. He had been corresponding with the U.S. President since the very beginning of the war, before he had become Prime Minister. They had only met once before during the war, at the [permalink id=13160 text=”Atlantic Conference”], when the United States was still neutral.

Now the two were to work very closely together – it is hard to imagine any modern politician working so closely with a foreign ally, no matter how strong their alliance:

We … landed after dark on December 22 at the Washington airport. There was the President waiting in his car. I clasped his strong hand with comfort and pleasure. We soon reached the White House, which was to be in every sense our home for the next three weeks. Here we were welcomed by Mrs. Roosevelt, who thought of everything that could make our stay agreeable.

I must confess that my mind was so occupied with the whirl of events and the personal tasks I had to perform that my memory till refreshed had preserved but a vague impression of these days.

The outstanding feature was of course my contacts with the President. We saw each other for several hours every day, and lunched always together, with Harry Hopkins as a third. We talked of nothing but business, and reached a great measure of agreement on many points, both large and small.

Dinner was a more social occasion, but equally intimate and friendly. The President punctiliously made the preliminary cocktails himself, and I wheeled him in his chair from the drawing- room to the lift as a mark of respect, and thinking also of Sir Walter Raleigh spreading his cloak before Queen Elizabeth.

I formed a very strong affection, which grew with our years of comradeship, for this formidable politician who had imposed his will for nearly ten years upon the American scene, and whose heart seemed to respond to many of the impulses that stirred my own.

As we both, by need or habit, were forced to do much of our work in bed, he visited me in my room whenever he felt inclined, and encouraged me to do the same to him. Hopkins was just across the passage from my bedroom, and next door to him my travelling map room was soon installed.

The President was much interested in this institution, which Captain Pirn had perfected. He liked to come and study attentively the large maps of all the theatres of war which soon covered the walls, and on which the movement of fleets and armies was so accurately and swiftly recorded. It was not long before he established a map room of his own of the highest efficiency.

See Winston Churchill – The Second World War, Volume 3: The Grand Alliance

Roosevelt attacks Nazi ‘piracy’ in the Atlantic

If the destroyer was visible to the submarine when the torpedo was fired, then the attack was a deliberate attempt by the Nazis to sink a clearly identified American warship. On the other hand, if the submarine was beneath the surface and, with the aid of its listening devices, fired in the direction of the sound of the American destroyer without even taking the trouble to learn its identity – as the official German communique would indicate – then the attack was even more outrageous. For it indicates a policy of indiscriminate violence against any vessel sailing the seas, belligerent or non-belligerent.

The incident involving the destroyer USS Greer prompted Roosevelt to change US terms of engagement at sea.

When You See a Rattlesnake Poised to Strike, You Do Not Wait Until He Has Struck Before You Crush Him

There had been claim and counter-claim following the attack on the [permalink id=13526 text=”USS Greer on the 4th September”]. President Roosevelt’s interpretation of events now featured in a radio broadcast to the nation on the 11th:

The United States destroyer, when attacked, was proceeding on a legitimate mission.

If the destroyer was visible to the submarine when the torpedo was fired, then the attack was a deliberate attempt by the Nazis to sink a clearly identified American warship. On the other hand, if the submarine was beneath the surface and, with the aid of its listening devices, fired in the direction of the sound of the American destroyer without even taking the trouble to learn its identity – as the official German communique would indicate – then the attack was even more outrageous. For it indicates a policy of indiscriminate violence against any vessel sailing the seas, belligerent or non-belligerent.

This was piracy-legally and morally. It was not the first nor the last act of piracy which the Nazi government has committed against the American flag in this war. Attack has followed attack.

He went on to announce what became known as the shoot on sight policy:

The time for active defense is now.

Do not let us split hairs. Let us not say: “We will only defend ourselves if the torpedo succeeds in getting home, or if the crew and the passengers are drowned.”

This is the time for prevention of attack.

If submarines or raiders attack in distant waters, they can attack equally well within sight of our own shores. Their very presence in any waters which America deems vital to its defense constitutes an attack.

In the waters which we deem necessary for our defense, American naval vessels and American planes will no longer wait until Axis submarines lurking under the water, or Axis raiders on the surface of the sea, strike their deadly blow — first.

Upon our naval and air patrol — now operating in large number over a vast expanse of the Atlantic Ocean — falls the duty of maintaining the American policy of freedom of the seas — now. That means, very simply, very clearly, that our patrolling vessels and planes will protect all merchant ships — not only American ships but ships of any flag — engaged in commerce in our defensive waters. They will protect them from submarines; they will protect them from surface raiders.

Read the whole address at USMM.

On the very same day Charles Lindburgh was making a speech in Iowa arguing against United States involvement in any war.