The Casablanca Conference: ‘We go bald-headed for Husky’ January 1943

Each appeared to the other in a romantic light high above the battles of allies or subordinates: their meetings and correspondence were occasions to which both consciously rose: they were royal cousins and felt pride in this relationship, tempered by a sharp and sometimes amused, but never ironical, perception of the other’s peculiar qualities.

Sir Isaiah Berlin on Roosevelt and Churchill1

When Brooke’s party landed at Casablanca at 11 a.m. on Wednesday 13 January 1943, Churchill met them at the aerodrome wearing his air commodore’s uniform. ‘They arrived dirty, hot and tired,’ recalled Joan Bright of the War Cabinet secretariat, who was helping to organize the conference, ‘only to see their American colleagues emerge spruce, shaved and fed, from comfortable aircraft into the Moroccan sun.’2 Churchill was in ebullient mood, crying: ‘Now tumble out, you young fellows, and get on parade!’

Elliott ‘Bunny’ Roosevelt, the President’s son, recalled Anfa Camp as ‘a pleasant resort hotel, unpretentious but very modern, small and very comfortable’, the compound of which was protected by barbed-wire and Patton’s troops. The President (codenamed ‘Admiral Q’) would be assigned Villa No. 2, only 50 yards away from Churchill (‘Air Commodore Frankland’) in No. 3. The President’s villa was far from unpretentious, however. It was decorated with–in Elliott’s phrase–‘plenty of drapes, plenty of frills’. It had a bed ‘at least three yards wide’ and a sunken bathtub in black marble. When the President first saw it, he whistled, and joked: ‘Now all we need is the madame of the house.’

The morning after Churchill arrived, he asked Sawyers to prepare a bath at 11, after several others had had theirs, and the water was cold. ‘You might have thought that the end of the world had come,’ recalled Jacob. ‘Everyone was sent for in turn, all were fools, and finally the Prime Minister said he wouldn’t stay a moment longer, and would move into the hotel or to Marrakesh.’ He only calmed down ‘after lunch had had its mellowing influence’. In another of the villas, that occupied by Brigadier Guy Stewart, the Director of Plans, there was discovered ‘a large library of decidedly doubtful books. True, they were all in French which made it difficult for some, but many of them were profusely illustrated, in most artistic style, which helped. For some time we despaired of any work being done in that villa, but after a bit the excitement died down.’3

The British fielded a large delegation at the Casablanca Conference–codenamed Symbol–comprising Winston Churchill, the three Chiefs of Staff (Sir Alan Brooke, Sir Dudley Pound and Sir Charles Portal), Lieutenant-General Pug Ismay, Sir John Dill, Lord Louis Mountbatten, Harold Macmillan, General Sir Harold Alexander, Air Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder, Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham, Major-General John Kennedy, John Slessor, the Assistant Chief of the Air Staff in charge of air policy, and Ian Jacob. The Americans meanwhile fielded Franklin Roosevelt, the four members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (George Marshall, Hap Arnold, Ernest King and William Leahy), King’s chief of staff Rear-Admiral Savvy Cooke, General Brehon Somervell of Army Supply Services, Mark Clark, Averell Harriman, Dwight Eisenhower and Albert Wedemeyer. In the lower Planning ranks there were many more Britons than Americans, something Marshall was to come to resent, criticize and ultimately learn from.

The agenda had been fixed with the Americans before they left Washington. ‘Actually it contained a list of every topic under the sun,’ noted Jacob soon afterwards, ‘but the most important thing was to get settled in broad outline our combined strategy for 1943, and then to get down to brass tacks and decide how exactly to carry it out. There were clearly the makings of a pretty vicious little circle here.’ Brooke thought it best to put the war against Japan high on the agenda, reasoning that if Admiral King ‘was able to get everything about the Pacific “off his chest”’, then perhaps he ‘would take a less jaundiced view vis-à-vis the rest of the world’. He hoped the same would be true of Marshall over Burma and China, where the Americans wanted a stronger commitment to action than the British, fearful as they always were that the Chinese might be knocked out of the war altogether by the Japanese. It was an interesting psychological move of Brooke’s, almost counter-intuitive, but it did not come off.

At 4.30 p.m. that first day, Wednesday 13 January, only a few hours after getting off the plane, the British Chiefs of Staff met Jack Dill to be briefed on the American stance before the first Combined Chiefs of Staff meeting the next day. He told them that the Joint Chiefs of Staff were entirely opposed to further exploiting Torch in the Mediterranean because it would prejudice the chances of Roundup and other, smaller operations against France, including raids against places such as Brest. They further thought it would weaken the bombing of Germany, employ vital naval craft and shipping for inadequate returns, and hinder operations in Burma which they thought important in order to keep China in the war and help them in the south-west Pacific; finally they feared that it would precipitate a German descent into Spain and the closing of the Straits.

Furthermore, Dill warned that the Joint Chiefs of Staff believed that the British did not take the war in the Far East seriously enough, and that a considerable effort would be required to prevent Japan becoming so entrenched there that it would be impossible to defeat her after Germany. He went so far as to say that the Americans had ‘a suspicion’ that Britain ‘would not put our backs into the work once Germany had been defeated’.4 He went on to speak of clashes between Marshall and King over strategy and allocation of resources: ‘The Navy control the landing craft, so that the Army finds it difficult to squeeze out what they want for their own projects.’ Dill also told the Chiefs how at Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands on 7 August, the first American land offensive of the war, ‘the US Marines were thrown ashore, and then it was found that there was no follow-up, no maintenance organisation, and no transport’.

The Americans were almost right about the British attitude towards the Pacific, which had been neatly summed up by Kennedy: ‘To get Burma (unless the Japs withdraw) we must have Rangoon and while the Japs are in strength we cannot collect the necessary forces for this until the Germans are finished. To get Rangoon we must have naval and air command in the Bay of Bengal–this we cannot get till Germany is out.’ But the Americans were undoubtedly wrong to suspect the British commitment to defeating Japan after Germany had surrendered.5

Undeterred by Dill’s message, Brooke met Churchill at 6 p.m. to try to persuade him of the advantages of attacking Sicily next, rather than Sardinia. He argued that Sicily would involve crossing a shorter distance from Africa, therefore the landings would be easier to support, and it was also the more direct route into Italy. The US Planners, however, believed that there would be less opposition on the Sardinian landing beaches, and since it was further north its aerodromes would be better placed for the next stage of the bombing offensive against Germany, the unambiguously codenamed Operation Pointblank.

As for Churchill, Ian Jacob noted that ‘His view was clear. He wanted to take plenty of time. Full discussion, no impatience–the dripping of water on a stone. In the meanwhile he would be working on the President, and in ten days or a fortnight everything would fall into place.’ Churchill was not noted for his patience, but he unquestionably employed it at Casablanca. He was out to get agreement on a programme of operations for 1943 which some Planners thought ‘well beyond our powers, but which he felt was the least that could be thought worth of two great powers’. He wanted the expulsion of the Germans from the North African shore to be followed by the capture of Sicily, but he also wanted the reconquest of Burma, and the eventual invasion of northern France, ‘on a moderate scale perhaps’. Since something major had to give in order for these huge objectives to be realized, ‘Operations in the Pacific should not be such as to prevent the fulfilment of his programme.’6

The Joint Chiefs of Staff were therefore right to worry: a large Mediterranean commitment made possible by a Pacific slowdown was precisely what Churchill had in mind, and what they feared. Similarly Brooke was right to worry about an over-hasty return to the Continent in 1943, yet ‘The Chiefs of Staff were dismissed…and the rest of the evening was given to ice-breaking dinner parties.’ Brooke had been ordered by the Prime Minister not to show impatience, though later in the conference this was to prove beyond him. That evening Brooke dined with Marshall, and had a ‘long talk with him after dinner’. Sadly we do not know whether they locked horns or skirted the issues, but if they had argued Brooke would probably have mentioned it–doubtless scaldingly–in his diary. Exhausted, Brooke then stayed up late enough to prepare his opening address to the Combined Chiefs of Staff for the following day.

Between 14 and 23 January, the Combined Chiefs were to hold their fifty-fifth through to sixty-ninth meetings in the conference room just beyond the drawing room of the Anfa Hotel; no fewer than fifteen full-scale meetings in ten days. Jacob, who took the minutes for the Chiefs of Staff (his friend Vivian Dykes performed the same role for the Combined Chiefs), found it ‘a charming room, the semicircular wall being made chiefly of large windows’. There was a big table seating sixteen in the middle, and two smaller tables seating from four to six on each side.

Brooke set out his view of the global situation at 10.30 the next morning, Thursday 14 January, after which Marshall followed him, showing where they disagreed, which seemed like nearly everywhere. They stopped for lunch and began again at 2.30 p.m., when Brooke asked the Americans for their views on the war in the Pacific. Admiral King answered, and in Brooke’s view, ‘it became clear at once that his idea was an “all-out” war against Japan instead of holding operations.’ King was sixty-four at the time of Casablanca, and Jacob described him as ‘active, tall and spare, with an alert and self-confident bearing. He seems to wear a protective covering of horn, which is hard to penetrate. He gives the impression of being exceedingly narrow-minded, and to be always on the look-out for slights or attempts to “put something over” on him. He is secretive, and I should say he treats his staff stiffly and at times tyrannically.’7 The British had long before correctly identified him as their most serious opponent on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He proposed an allocation of the total Allied war effort that boiled down to 30 per cent for the Pacific versus 70 per cent for the rest of the world, whereupon Brooke pointed out that ‘this was hardly a scientific way of approaching war strategy!’ King replied that ‘It might be better knocking off the weaker brethren before finally tackling the main enemy,’ and maintained that a set percentage of Allied resources should be devoted to preventing Japan getting into an impregnable position. Brooke didn’t like the percentages idea, preferring to set specific targets–such as the reconquest of Burma and the capture of Rabaul or the Marshall Islands–for specific dates. Only once the targets were identified could the resources be allocated, he argued, with everything left over concentrated against Germany. He particularly feared that having too many escort vessels and landing craft in the Pacific theatre might ‘hamstring all operations elsewhere’.

King’s was probably just an initial bargaining position, and other accounts from strategists mention a 25/75 breakdown being acceptable to him, which in retrospect Brooke ought to have seized upon, however ‘unscientific’ it might have looked to that scion of Britain’s finest Staff colleges. Had it been possible to implement statistically, and some kind of formula probably could have been worked out, Britain would have been better off than with the ‘whittling’ off of resources to the Pacific that did in fact take place in surreptitious defiance of the official agreements made at Casablanca. ‘We are in the position of a testator who wishes to leave the bulk of his fortune to his mistress,’ said Portal of the situation. ‘He must however leave something to his wife, and the problem is how to decide how little he can in decency set apart for her.’8 It’s easy to see why people enjoyed working with the Chief of the Air Staff.

It became clear that the Americans wanted to advance their outpost line beyond the Solomon Islands to broaden their base of action and to get far more depth into their campaign against the Japanese Navy. As Dill had warned might happen, King openly expressed the suspicious (and deeply insulting) view that Britain ‘might not be wholehearted in taking [her] share of the Japanese War if it were left till after Germany’. The danger of China being forced out of the war by Japan was also stressed and it was agreed that it would be worth while making an advance into Burma from Assam in India in order to try to open the northern route to China, even though it might prove impossible to keep it open.

After much further discussion it was agreed to instruct the Joint Planners to examine and report on the minimum holding operations required in the Pacific. Hap Arnold remarked of this opening session that it was ‘not bad, everything seems to be smoothing out, I hope. British and us have not as yet put all cards on table, perhaps things will get worse then.’9 The meeting broke up for tea at 5 p.m., after which the Chiefs of Staff had a discussion with the British Joint Planners to instruct them on the line of action to take with their American opposite numbers. After that, Brooke went off bird-watching with Kennedy, and Arnold departed to see the refloated Vichy battleship Jean Bart, which had been hit with British 14-inch shells that, he recorded, had left ‘holes in bow and stern large enough to take a small bungalow’.

The presidential party–which included FDR’s sons Elliott and Franklin Jr, as well as Harry Hopkins and his son Robert–arrived on the afternoon of the 14th in six big planes escorted by fighters. At dinner at the Roosevelts’ villa that night, Admiral King, a heavy drinker, ‘became nicely lit up towards the end’ and got more and more assertive. With a thick voice and expansive gesticulations, he propounded his views on the best way to organize North Africa politically. This inevitably led to a clash with Churchill, who had failed to spot that King was drunk. ‘Most amusing to watch,’ was Brooke’s laconic comment on the scene.10 When an air-raid warning sounded at 1.30 a.m., the British and Americans all sat around the table illuminated only by six candles, before finally getting to bed half an hour later. When asked after the war if the Prime Minister ever ‘spoke from brandy’, Marshall said, ‘No, Churchill could hold it,’ adding that that was not always true of Admiral King.

The next morning, Friday 15 January, the news arrived that the Japanese were being driven from Guadalcanal; their expulsion from that island would be a significant American victory. At 8.45, ‘a lovely sunny morning’, Brooke and Kennedy walked down the beach and had a productive hour watching goldfinches, stonechats, warblers of all sorts, white wagtails and several types of waders on the sea-shore, including sanderlings, ring and grey plovers and turnstones. The Chiefs of Staff met later that morning to discuss ‘future projects to be put to the Americans’, and afterwards they met Churchill again. The Prime Minister advised that all the possibilities should be looked at and not just those for the Pacific, otherwise it might be like ‘carrying water from a well in a sieve. There would be nothing left when we got home.’11 He was positive about the fighting in Tunisia, saying that ‘We had to wear the Germans down somewhere and it would be better if they came to us. We should have those in the bag eventually.’ He was right about that, largely because of Hitler’s refusal to entertain even tactical withdrawals. Of the prospect of a German invasion of Spain, Churchill repeated that ‘We had to fight the Germans somewhere and he did not mind whether it was France or in Spain or anywhere else.’ He approved an attack into Burma from Assam, and said that the Casablanca negotiations could not be rushed and would probably need ten days. Then he went off to lunch with the President. Kennedy meanwhile lunched with Harold Macmillan, who told him that when Churchill had advised him to rejoin the Army and Macmillan replied that he’d be more useful as a civilian, Churchill had said: ‘Yes, perhaps you are right. Between the bowler and the baton there is no middle course.’12

After lunch the Combined Chiefs of Staff returned to the relative merits of Roundup versus the Mediterranean. Brooke pointed out that the Germans now had forty-four divisions in France against a maximum of twenty-two Allied divisions which could be landed in the early stages, assuming the immediate transfer of landing craft from the Mediterranean, so any invasion would probably be defeated or confined to a beachhead.13 The Americans naturally did not accept this forecast, and relations were not improved by Brooke criticizing Eisenhower for a lack of co-ordination between the First and Eighth Armies in the failed operations against the Tunisian port of Sfax, which had been seized by the Germans in November 1942 and was held successfully by them until 10 April 1943.

At 5.30 p.m. the Combined Chiefs, along with Eisenhower, Alexander and Tedder, met Roosevelt and Churchill in the first of three plenary sessions–‘at which we did little’, recorded Brooke, ‘except that the President expressed views favouring operations in the Mediterranean’. Far from ‘little’, this was the first glimpse that, as with Torch, the Americans were split over strategy, and therefore might be prevailed over by isolating Marshall again. This time it would take much detailed argument, especially by Staffs, rather than the point-blank veto that Brooke had exercised in London back in July.

Wedemeyer, who considered Casablanca an almost personal defeat, claimed in his autobiography that on the second day of the conference Brooke had said that victory in the European Theatre might be possible by the end of 1943, but had then ‘let the cat out of the bag a little by saying we could “definitely” count on getting into Europe in 1944’.14 Yet in January 1943 Tunis had yet to be captured, so the odds on the Allied forces being moved to Britain for a cross-Channel attack before autumn were next to impossible, and the Channel became effectively impassable in late September. The German army in northern France was strong, not worn down by bombing or weakened by withdrawals to the Eastern Front, so Brooke was hardly letting any cats out of any bags with his remark.

Wedemeyer also alleged that Admiral King’s fear that strict adherence to Germany First might allow the Japanese to consolidate their gains in the Far East led him actively to support Operation Anakim, a proposed Anglo-American seaborne assault to recapture Burma from the Japanese, to be undertaken in late 1943. According to Wedemeyer, ‘King visibly annoyed the British, and they shifted uneasily’ at this advocacy of a major campaign there.15 While it is true that King annoyed the British throughout the Casablanca Conference, and they might well have shifted in their chairs, in fact they had also shifted their position over Anakim, and came out in its support.

Brooke irritated King generally, the admiral complaining that he ‘talked so damned fast that it was hard to understand what he was saying’. Jacob thought it more serious than that: ‘I think the CIGS’s extremely definite views, ultra-swift speech, and at times impatience made [the Joint Chiefs of Staff] keep wondering whether he was not putting something over on them.’ In light of what had happened over Sledgehammer, this was understandable.

After dinner that night Hopkins and Harriman visited Brooke, the former ‘in rather a bitter mood which I had not yet seen him in’, which provoked the CIGS’s ambiguous observation: ‘There is no doubt that we are too closely related to the Americans to make co-operation between us anything but easy.’ Perhaps, as Brooke probably meant to imply, the common language and culture were tending to cause more problems than they solved. Explaining Hopkins’ bitterness, his biographer Robert Sherwood wrote that Roosevelt’s confidant was ‘again disappointed and depressed by the further postponement of Roundup; he was always solidly with Marshall in the conviction that there was no really adequate substitute for the opening of a Second Front in France.’16 Might there also have been a scintilla of guilt in having effectively undermined the early Second Front when he had visited London with Marshall in July?

Wedemeyer was characteristically forthright on Torch:

After getting the African littoral, then the British maintained that you had to have Sicily because the enemy could occupy that and could jeopardize our lines of communication to the Middle East. Well, I would say…I don’t care what happens in the Middle East. Rommel could run rampant in Alexandria or Cairo or whatnot. What I wanted to do was to get quickly into the Ruhr and cut off the source of supplies for Rommel. He would die on a limb as I saw it.17 *

Meanwhile, over dinner in Roosevelt’s villa, Marshall and Eisenhower had to tell their commander-in-chief that he could not visit the front, as he had set his heart upon doing. Elliott recorded the difficult conversation, in which his father reminded his commanders that ‘he’d been up front in the last war, as assistant secretary of the Navy’, before insisting, ‘And I’m going up front in this one too.’ In fact Roosevelt had visited the Western Front for only a very few days in the Great War, mostly behind the lines, despite his regularly claiming over the years, quite untruthfully, to have seen a great deal first-hand of the ravages of that conflict.18 Of course, even had Marshall and Eisenhower known the truth about the President’s fantasies, they would hardly have exploded them. Instead the two generals merely exchanged a look, and went on eating. ‘Well?’ pursued Roosevelt. ‘Why the silence?’ ‘It’s impossible, sir,’ ventured Eisenhower. ‘Out of the question,’ agreed Marshall.19 The President tried to argue the issue, pointing out the lack of real danger and then suggesting that a fighter escort might protect him. The discussion ended only when Marshall concluded: ‘Orders are orders, sir. But if you give them, nobody in the US Army from us on down will take responsibility.’ Elliott recalled that Marshall ‘was very serious, and Father was very disappointed, but forced to agree.’ A compromise was reached by which Roosevelt instead reviewed three divisions of Patton’s troops north of Rabat.

‘There was a curious mixture of holiday and business in these extraordinarily oriental and fascinating surroundings,’ recorded Harold Macmillan of Casablanca in yet another against-regulations war diary.20 With his Balliol College, Oxford, classical education, Macmillan likened the Churchill–Roosevelt meeting to that of the Emperor of the East meeting the Emperor of the West in the later Roman Empire. Meanwhile Ian Jacob took away happy memories of Casablanca, especially of eating large juicy oranges for every meal, which had long been virtually unobtainable in England. He also recalled ‘sunshine on a diversity of beautiful colours, and oranges. The red soil, the blue sky, the sea with its perpetual surf, the white villas and farms, and the white mass of Casablanca town, the bougainvilleas, the begonia, and the green of orange grove and palm trees made a picture which one never tired of gazing at from the sunny roof garden.’

Between 10.30 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Saturday 16 January, Brooke tried to extol the positive advantages of his Mediterranean strategy. Of the US Chiefs, he wrote: ‘They can’t be pushed and hurried, and must be made gradually to assimilate our proposed policy.’ Jacob explained after the war that the Joint Chiefs of Staff agreed to the assault on Sicily (Operation Husky) only:

because we were representing to them that it was essential for the clearing of the Mediterranean and saving of shipping, but they could not see the political and strategic importance of knocking Italy out of the war. They thought of the Mediterranean–and the opening of it–as a means of getting a shorter route to Burma and India, and to the Persian Gulf for Lend–Lease supplies to Russia. The idea of exploiting it to threaten Hitler’s southern flank appeared to them to be rather ridiculous.21

At another meeting from 3.30 p.m. to 5.15 p.m., Brooke thought he could spot ‘some progress’. Meanwhile, Churchill planned a reconciliation meeting between de Gaulle and Giraud, another object of the conference. Brooke dined that night with General Patton, whom he thought on first acquaintance ‘A real fire-eater and a definite character’, a good summation in both aspects.22

After the war, returning to a persistent theme, Brooke wrote that his job at Casablanca had been made ‘all the more difficult by the fact that amongst Marshall’s very high qualities he did not possess those of a strategist. It was almost impossible to get him to grasp the true concepts of a strategic situation.’ He yet again repeated the accusation that Marshall ‘preferred to hedge and defer decisions until such time as he had to consult his assistants. Unfortunately his assistants were not of the highest calibre, and Cooke was of a very low category.’ As for Patton, the post-war Brooke naturally considered him, like so very many other generals of the war, as ‘good for operations requiring thrust and push but at a loss in any operation requiring skill and judgment’.23 So ubiquitous was Brooke’s formula in his diaries that it unfortunately undermines the value of his individual estimations of people.

It is hardly surprising, considering these kinds of comments, confidential though they obviously were, that the Americans both detected Brooke’s contempt for their strategic abilities and resented it. In a long list of Brooke’s faults published in Moran’s controversial 1966 journals Churchill: The Struggle for Survival–including his matter-of-factness, straitjacketed mind, want of tact, and failure to appreciate Churchill’s achievement in ‘wooing the fickle Roosevelt’–the doctor–diarist argued that his gravest shortcoming was that ‘He did not get on with the Americans. His downright, direct speech, combined with his take-it-or-leave-it manner, did not help him to get his own way.’ Moran believed it was left to Dill ‘to bring Marshall into line’.24 There was much truth in this.

‘Why did Brooke grate on the Americans?’ Moran asked. Whereas Dill managed to make them feel that every word they uttered mattered enormously, by total contrast ‘Brooke had an inborn suspicion that there might be an element of insincerity in this kind of approach. He swung instinctively to the opposite pole, throwing down his facts in the path of understanding with a brusque gesture. In his opinion it was all just common sense; he had thought it all out. Not for a moment did it occur to him that there might be another point of view.’ Such utter certainty in one’s own judgement might have been a necessary part of a grand strategist’s mental armament in a world war, but ‘He hurled facts at them like hand grenades, it did not matter if they went off and left wounds. Brooke’s insensitive handling of his American colleagues had echoes, for it was what was American in Winston that most disturbed him.’

It is doubtful that the Combined Chiefs of Staff sessions of 16 January were a success in terms of mutual comprehension. In a meeting with Roosevelt, King complained that the British ‘do not seem to have an overall plan’ to win the war, but the Joint Chiefs of Staff would nonetheless go along with Churchill’s and Brooke’s Mediterranean schemes if the President ordered them to.25 Kennedy heard from Brooke that ‘much progress was made towards seeing each other’s point of view’ although the main points ‘have had to be reiterated a good deal. Marshall gives an impression of great honesty and friendliness and soundness. He takes time to consider everything and although not rigid needs to be thoroughly convinced.’ Brooke told Kennedy of a wordplay of Marshall’s about American politicians, that ‘There were more brass heads among them than brass hats among the soldiers.’ Perhaps the truth was that, as Arnold confided to his diary, ‘We are getting things done but awfully slow.’26 His opposite number Charles Portal, meanwhile, explained to Dill, apropos of nothing in particular, how the sap travels in cactus plants.

For all its acerbity, King’s complaint to Roosevelt had some validity. ‘The “Mediterranean Strategy” was in gestation between September and December 1942,’ writes Michael Howard; ‘at Casablanca it was born and legitimized. This strategy was not one of manoeuvre, but of attrition.’27 It had a number of advantages, namely that it could simultaneously release shipping, provide bases for bombing German-controlled Europe, divert troops from the Eastern Front, and knock Italy out of the war. It could not knock Germany out of it, however, which was the principal objection that Marshall and King had, and why the latter was so bitter in his remark to his commander-in-chief.

With large numbers of American troops in North Africa and British forces in the Middle East, the Masters and Commanders had a clear choice. The shipping was not available to transfer them all back to the United Kingdom for a cross-Channel operation, so, as Howard has summed up, ‘Unless they were to remain idle for a year while the Russians continued to fight single-handed, some employment had to be found for them in the Mediterranean Theatre.’28 The idleness option was not politically acceptable to either Roosevelt or Churchill, and while Brooke did not see the region as a soft underbelly he did hope that, were Sicily to fall, Italy would collapse and the Germans would be forced to reinforce Italy, and perhaps also the Balkans and the Aegean, from the Eastern Front. Allied sea and air power could then be concentrated against a long thin peninsula jutting into a sea that contained the Allied strongholds of Gibraltar, Malta, Tunisia, Alexandria and Cyprus.

Any advances made towards getting the Americans to support this strategy on Saturday 16 January, however, were lost the next day. ‘We seem to be back at the beginning,’ wrote Kennedy. ‘Marshall and King expounded all their first ideas of Pacific strategy once again and CIGS repeated our side of the case. At the moment we seem to have reached an impasse, and we are still poles apart.’ Brooke agreed, calling it ‘A desperate day!’ and concluding that agreement was further away than ever. After discussions on Burma and Iceland, it was decided that further conferring was useless until the Joint Planners had made much more headway together.

Yet when Brooke met the British Joint Planners he thought he detected from their remarks that their American counterparts ‘did not agree with Germany being the primary enemy and were wishing to defeat Japan first!!!’29 Well might that have deserved Brooke’s treble exclamation mark were it true, but the British Planners had either misunderstood the US Planners’ view or had misrepresented it to Brooke, or he had misunderstood it, or had misrepresented it to his diary. What is most likely is that the American Planners, particularly Wedemeyer and Savvy Cooke, were threatening the Pacific strategy in the same way as Marshall did, ‘as a club’ to beat the British, but were bluffing. Brooke took his thoughts bird-watching, and saw ‘a new white heron, quite distinct from the egret, and a new small owl which we could not place’. It was evident to him that the ‘water on stone’ technique had not worked so far, and the next morning a more direct approach would be needed. Simultaneously, Marshall was arriving at much the same conclusion.

The key meeting of the Casablanca Conference came at 10.30 a.m. on Monday 18 January, when the contrasting underlying strategic philosophies of the war were debated very openly. Brooke began by saying that Operation Anakim was now definitely on the planning agenda, and ‘should be put to the front’. With the assistance of the US Navy in providing landing craft, he said, the amphibious capture of Rangoon was feasible. King said that it should be done in 1943 and the Combined Chiefs of Staff agreed. It was a fine start, and something of a compromise from Brooke, but soon afterwards profound differences emerged.

Brooke stated that the British Chiefs of Staff took exception to the first paragraph of an American memorandum–CCS 153–which failed to state that Germany must be defeated before Japan. Marshall replied that in his opinion the British Chiefs of Staff ‘wished to be certain that we keep the enemy engaged in the Mediterranean and…at the same time maintain a sufficient force in the United Kingdom to take advantage of a crack in the German strength either from the withdrawal of their forces in France or because of lowered morale’. He inferred from this that the British Chiefs of Staff would prefer to maintain a dormant force in the UK rather than use it elsewhere, whereas the Joint Chiefs of Staff ‘know that they can use these forces offensively in the Pacific theatre’. Marshall’s threat was obvious, especially once he added that ‘to a large measure the shipping used in the Pacific is already committed and, therefore, could not be made available for a build-up of forces in the United Kingdom.’

Brooke answered plainly by saying that, in that case, ‘We have reached a stage in the war where we must review the correctness of our basic strategic concept.’ He was personally convinced that the Allies could not defeat Germany and Japan simultaneously and he and his colleagues believed that it would be better to concentrate on Germany first and indeed, ‘because of the distances involved’, they believed not only that the simultaneous defeat of Japan was impossible, but that ‘if we attempt [it], we shall lose the war’. He added that having decided ‘that it is necessary to defeat Germany first, the immediate question is whether to do so by an invasion of Northern France or to exploit our successes in North Africa’. The British Chiefs of Staff, he said, ‘consider that an all-out Mediterranean effort is best but that it must be “all-out”’. He admitted that American assistance was necessary in any Mediterranean operations, and that failure to ‘maintain constant pressure’ on Germany would give Hitler ‘an opportunity to recover and thus prolong the war’.30

Marshall replied to this forthright and all-embracing analysis reciprocally, by saying that the Joint Chiefs of Staff certainly did not propose ‘doing nothing in the Mediterranean or in France’. He confirmed that the Germany First policy still stood, but contended that an early end to the war ‘cannot be accomplished if we neglect the Pacific theater entirely’, adding that he ‘advocated an attack on the Continent but that he was opposed to immobilizing a large force in the UK, awaiting an uncertain prospect, when they might be better engaged in offensive operations which are possible’. Brooke replied that the British Chiefs of Staff ‘certainly did not want to keep forces tied up in Europe doing nothing’.

To prove this he mentioned ‘the desirability of Anakim’, which could be undertaken by forces in the local theatre which would not detract from ‘the earliest possible defeat of Germany’. He then quoted from a Combined Planning Staff paper which stated that Anakim was acceptable to Britain, ‘provided always that its application does not prejudice the earliest possible defeat of Germany’. He was expert at always having to hand the apposite quotations from JPS papers that, since American Planners contributed to them equally, were hard for the American Chiefs to gainsay. At that point Admiral King complained that such wording ‘might be read as meaning that anything which was done in the Pacific interfered with the earliest possible defeat of Germany’ and that the Pacific theatre ‘should therefore remain totally inactive’. Portal intervened to say that perhaps the two Staffs had ‘misunderstood’ each other, and all that the British were saying was that as far as ‘getting at Germany in the immediate future’ was concerned, ‘the Mediterranean offered better prospects than France.’ As an airman, he also commended building up a large heavy bomber force, which he pointed out was ‘the only form of force that could operate continuously against Germany’.

Attempts to suggest that there are ‘misunderstandings’ rather than genuine differences of view are often simply a way to proffer an olive branch, so that neither side loses face, but Marshall brushed it aside when he replied that he was ‘most anxious not to become committed to interminable operations in the Mediterranean’ and he ‘wished Northern France to be the scene of the main effort against Germany’, something he rightly said ‘had always been his conception’. The debate was thus veering back towards those pre-Torch ones held in London the previous year, especially after Portal bluntly admitted that ‘it was impossible to say exactly where we should stop in the Mediterranean since we hoped to knock Italy out altogether. This action would give the greatest support to Russia and might open the door to France.’31

In response to this, Marshall repeated his view that operations in the Mediterranean and a build-up in Britain ‘might well prevent us from undertaking operations in Burma’ and therefore he was ‘not at all in favour of this’. Moreover, American forces in the south-west Pacific were ‘desperately short at present of their immediate requirements’. King of course agreed, stating that ‘We had on many occasions been close to disaster in the Pacific.’ For him, the real point at issue was to try to ‘determine the balance between the effort to be put against Germany and against Japan, but we must have enough in the Pacific to maintain the initiative against the Japanese.’ Hence his 30 per cent/70 per cent offer. The nature of these operations, he ‘felt very strongly’, should be decided not by the Combined Chiefs of Staff but by the Joint Chiefs of Staff alone–that is, a unilateral American rather than a joint Anglo-American decision. This of course flew directly in the face of the whole Combined Chiefs of Staff concept as set up by Marshall at Arcadia.

Marshall then argued that the notion of Germany First had been jeopardized by a lack of resources in the Pacific, for example heavy bombers set up to go to the UK had had to be diverted there, as under CCS 94. ‘Fortunately, disaster had been avoided, but if it had occurred, there would have been a huge diversion of US effort to the Pacific theater. The US had nearly been compelled to pull out of Torch.’ In order to make the Pacific secure, he said, Anakim and the reconquest of Burma ‘would be an enormous contribution to this and would effect ultimately a great economy of forces’. He also mentioned operations to capture Rabaul and Truk.

At this Brooke baulked, seeing a major extension of American commitment far from the Mediterranean. Rabaul was an important two-harbour naval base on the Gazelle Peninsula in New Britain that dominated the entire New Guinea–New Britain–Solomon Islands area, the hub of the region that threatened Australia. Truk–which might be thought of as a Japanese Gibraltar–was a stronghold island in the central Carolines which served as the headquarters of the Japanese Combined Fleet, threatening Allied advances in the central and south Pacific and home port to one of the largest battleships in the world, the Musahi. Brooke began by arguing that it would be enough to stop at Rabaul, because to go on to Truk before Germany was defeated ‘would take up too much force’ and involve ‘large shipping losses’ which would be ‘a continuous drain on our resources’. King demurred, insisting that the same forces could, by stages, liberate the Marshall Islands after Rabaul was captured in May, with Anakim taking place after November 1943.

The two Staffs seemed poles apart, so Portal and Marshall came up with a compromise form of words. Portal said the British would not like to be committed to Anakim, even with forces released after the capture of Rabaul, ‘without first reviewing whether some other operation more profitable to the war as a whole might not be desirable’. To take an extreme case, he said, suppose a good opportunity arose, after the capture of Rabaul and owing to a crack in Germany, of attacking France? ‘Should we refuse to take advantage of it because we were already committed to Anakim?’ Marshall replied that he ‘felt that if such a situation arose we should certainly seize the opportunity’, agreeing that a further meeting of the Combined Chiefs of Staff might be necessary in the summer to decide.

Pressing the opportunity, Brooke then proposed that ‘we should limit our outlook in the Pacific to Rabaul, which should certainly be undertaken, and to preparations for Anakim’, with the final decision to launch Anakim being taken later. Any decision on Truk, however, should be ‘deferred’. King complained immediately that that would be ‘strictly to limit commitments in the Pacific, although the British Chiefs of Staff apparently contemplated an unlimited commitment in the European theater’. Yet Marshall agreed that a decision on Anakim and Truk ‘could be left until later’. Brooke had spotted a gap between the positions of Marshall and King and had moved quickly to exploit it.

King argued, with some justification, that ‘on logistic grounds alone it would be impossible to bring forces from the Pacific theater to the European theater’ and that therefore Anakim was not a genuine alternative to Roundup, as Portal had hypothesized. He was supported in this by the American Planners Somervell and Cooke, but Portal was not to be put off now that an Army–Navy split seemed to be emerging in the American position, and he reiterated that ‘it would be unwise to accept a definite commitment for Anakim now, since a favourable situation might arise in Europe’. King countered this by saying that ‘favourable opportunities’ might arise in the Pacific too. At this point Marshall suggested an amendment to the Joint Planning document, so as to read that seizure of the Gilbert, Marshall and Caroline Islands up to and including Truk would be undertaken ‘with the resources in the theater’.

This might have been the point at which, in Wedemeyer’s account, Brooke ‘was visibly disturbed and impatient with King’s position’, and Cooke turned to John Deane, who was taking notes for the Americans, and said: ‘Nuts!’ Sir John Dill, sitting across the table with his British colleagues, overheard this remark and, ‘realizing that Anglo-American tensions were becoming acute, skilfully performed his role as peacemaker’.32 He whispered to Brooke the suggestion that he adjourn the meeting for lunch.

When the two sides resumed their meeting at 3 p.m., the Combined Chiefs of Staff had before them a draft note setting out tentative agreements. A deal had been brokered by Dill during the lunch adjournment, so that the topics under discussion could move on to the much less contentious issues of supply vessels, Polish forces, air raids on Berlin and the naval situation in the western Mediterranean. At one point Brooke revealed that a plan had been drawn up for seizing southern Spain with six divisions if it was deemed necessary to deny it to the Germans. Of the morning arguments with King, Kennedy recorded: ‘It is good to blow off steam and probably the process is necessary.’33 Brooke described the two-and-a-half-hour morning meeting as ‘very heated’ and thought King was ‘still evidently wrapped up in the war of the Pacific at the expense of everything else!’

Years later Brooke showed that much of the credit for the lunchtime breakthrough and subsequent draft note had been down to Dill. ‘I was in despair and in the depths of gloom’ on leaving the conference room, he recalled, and as he walked upstairs to his hotel room had told Dill: ‘It is no use, we shall never get agreement with them!’ His friend and mentor replied: ‘On the contrary, you have already got agreement to most of the points, and it only remains to settle the rest.’ They sat on Brooke’s bed after lunch and went through each individual point on the agenda, Brooke occasionally protesting that he ‘would not move an inch’ on some of them. ‘Oh yes, you will,’ replied the former CIGS. ‘You know that you must come to some agreement with the Americans and that you cannot bring the unsolved problem up to the Prime Minister and the President. You know as well as I do what a mess they would make of it!’34 This was unfair: the successful Torch had been Churchill’s and Roosevelt’s operation, carried out against the initial wishes of Brooke and Marshall, but it was undoubtedly this imperative that drove the generals towards compromise.

Brooke authorized Dill to talk to Marshall as a go-between. Portal also helped draw up the compromise formula into the draft note, which both Brooke and Marshall agreed to adopt when the meeting reconvened that afternoon. ‘I am certain that the final agreement being reached was due more to Dill than to anyone else,’ wrote Brooke after the war, ‘acting as the best possible intermediary between Marshall and myself.’35

(Not everyone saw Dill as an honest broker: Leonard Mosley claimed that the British Chiefs of Staff lacerated Marshall’s plans for a 1943 cross-Channel invasion because Dill had leaked the full US programme for Casablanca to them beforehand. ‘They now proceeded to tear it to pieces, not least Marshall’s pet plan for the invasion, which was ridiculed out of existence.’ Wedemeyer, who spoke into Mosley’s tape-recorder at length, told Mosley that Dill ‘got extremely close to Marshall, and provided the British Chiefs and the PM with information on Marshall’s thinking which Marshall shouldn’t have given him’ and that Dill had ‘sold Marshall short’.36 Like much of Mosley’s history and Wedemeyer’s testimony, this was inaccurate and simplistic.)

When the Combined Chiefs of Staff met again at 3 p.m. the compromise paper was accepted with only a few minor alterations. The recapture of Burma through Anakim and a south-west Pacific offensive to Rabaul and then on to the Marshall and Caroline Islands would be conducted with whatever means could be spared without compromising the objective of defeating Germany first. Anakim was promised American assault ships by King, but only once he had protected his Pacific resources from depletion. The British also promised that they would concentrate everything against Japan once Germany surrendered. Truk was left off the agenda. Crucially, Eisenhower would command Husky (the attack on Sicily), and Roundup would be undertaken whenever it was thought likely to succeed.

Meeting Roosevelt and Churchill at 5.30 p.m., Brooke sat next to Churchill, who asked who had chaired the Combined Chiefs of Staff meeting. Brooke said Marshall had, as Casablanca was under US occupation, so the Prime Minister called on him to report. The US Army Chief of Staff instead asked the CIGS to expound upon their report. ‘It was a difficult moment,’ wrote Brooke that evening, ‘we had only just succeeded in getting the American Chiefs of Staff to agree with us.’ Churchill did not know how tough it had been to find the compromise, and he could have upset it easily. However, the statement was approved by him and Roosevelt. ‘We were then all photographed together!’ recorded Brooke, and if some smiles seemed to be through clenched teeth, others were perfectly genuine.

The compromise report based on Dill’s draft note was therefore ratified as Allied policy, and it contained the advantages and disadvantages of any such brokered solution. ‘Roosevelt’, his biographer records, ‘was happy with this hard-fought outcome,’ as were Churchill and Brooke.37 Although Marshall also seemed content at the time, many American Planners came to see the Casablanca compromise as a serious setback, because it took large numbers of American troops on to Italian territory in 1943 rather than on to French beaches. So why did Marshall permit a major attack on Sicily, considering he had come to Casablanca opposed to a Mediterranean strategy? Jacob believes that because Roosevelt ‘was quite of the Prime Minister’s way of thinking, it was not long before everyone accepted Sicily as the thing to do.’38 Richard Overy argues that Sicily was simply somewhere that the Germans could be convincingly engaged and defeated. In the end, if the British were not going to cross the Channel in 1943, and there weren’t enough Americans to do it on their own, what else was there to do, other than drop Germany First and turn over the running of the war to Admiral King? Under those circumstances American troops would probably not get around to a ground assault on Germany until much later in the decade. For Marshall looking at the Sicilian operation in January 1943, most of the alternatives, except the Norwegian adventure which in his view was equally diversionary, had been blocked off by Roosevelt, Churchill and Brooke. Sometimes grand strategy, involving the lives of millions–and the deaths, wounding and capture of tens of thousands–has to be a question of taking the least bad compromise alternative.

There was still much left to agree now that the grand strategy had been set out. At 10 o’clock the next morning, Tuesday 19 January, a revised programme of meetings was disseminated, whereby it became clear that Anakim and the south-west Pacific would be considered in detail only at the very last meeting of the conference, that Saturday. In the meantime there would be meetings on every other conceivable subject, under the headings ‘System of Command in French West Africa’, ‘Turkey and Axis Oil’, ‘Operation Husky’, ‘Bomber Offensive from North Africa’, ‘The U-Boat War’, ‘Landing Craft’, ‘The Bomber Offensive from the UK’, ‘Bolero Build-up’ and several others, with Dill, in Jacob’s words, ‘often acting as go-between and general lubricator’.

Even though consideration of several of these issues obviously overlapped with Anakim, the decision was taken to relegate the matter most likely to cause another rift with Admiral King to the very end of the conference, and to try to get as much else as possible settled in the meantime. Thus it was agreed that 938,000 US troops would be assembled in the United Kingdom by the end of 1943. Marshall’s earlier calculations of attacking across the Channel with four hundred thousand men had had to be more than doubled once the formidable German capacity to resist and counter-attack had been witnessed in Tunisia.39

Jacob wrote of this second phase of the conference, conducted in long morning and afternoon sessions:

The remarkable thing about it all was that the gradual education of the Americans to our way of thinking was found to have proceeded even farther than we had thought possible. The beneficial results of holding such a conference for so long a period and on a neutral pitch made themselves clearly manifest. Everyone in these circumstances is freed from the irksome routine of the office, and there is nothing to distract attention from the work in hand…In Casablanca…everyone fed, slept and worked in the same building or group of buildings. British and Americans met round the bar, went for walks down to the beach together, and sat around in each other’s rooms in the evenings. Mutual respect and understanding ripen in such surroundings, especially when the weather is lovely, the accommodation is good, and food and drink and smokes are unlimited and free.40

This implies that in an atmosphere of sweet reasonableness the superior British view naturally emerged triumphant, which is not what happened at all. The American Planners long afterwards counted Casablanca as a defeat at the hands of the British, and universally blamed their own inferior preparation and Staff work. ‘The outcome was as we had predicted,’ stated Paul Caraway. ‘Our people lost their shirts. The only conference we did lose, I might add.’ Tom Handy agreed, saying of Wedemeyer and Cooke, ‘The British on the planning level just snowed them under…If a question comes up and you have a paper ready to present on it, you have a big edge on the other guy who hasn’t. Consideration can start on the basis of your paper, but the reverse is true if you’ve got none and if he’s got a prepared thing…These British Planners were just smarter than hell.’41 Savvy Cooke clearly wasn’t quite as savvy as all that.

‘We were overwhelmed by the large British staff,’ Ed Hull agreed. ‘The only staff that General Marshall had was small and the other chiefs of staff were no better fixed. He had Wedemeyer and one assistant…The British had come down there in droves and every one of them had written a paper about something and that was submitted by the British Chiefs of Staff to the American Joint Chiefs of Staff for agreement…It taught us a lesson. Never go to a meeting like that without plenty of help, because you need it.’42One of the complaints Handy had about the way that Dykes and his team operated was that when they queried agreements that had been minuted, Dykes would say, ‘You didn’t object,’ as ‘the British way was to take anything not objected to as accepted.’

The War Office had commandeered a special ship that was moored in Casablanca harbour. HMS Bulolo was a 6,000-ton liner converted for use as a floating HQ for combined operations and had taken part in the Algiers landing. Fitted up with an operations room and a complete set of wireless instruments so that contact could be maintained with the landing forces, she was perfect for enabling the Planners to stay in touch with London, requesting any information they needed. ‘We could operate exactly as if we were in Great George Street,’ recalled Jacob. Harold Macmillan noted: ‘In the Bay stood the famous communication ship which can send off as many as thirty wireless messages at the same time, and hosts of cypherers and so on.’43

Jacob was surprised by the tiny numbers of Staff officers that the Americans had brought with them, claiming with pardonable exaggeration that when the Joint Chiefs of Staff saw the size of the British operation, ‘they went out into the highways and byways of North Africa and scraped together some sort of a Staff…but…nearly every paper produced during the Conference had to be produced by our people with little or no help from the Americans.’44 For all his complaining tone, this was of inestimable advantage to the British in guiding the Staffs to the conclusions they wanted. Matters were made worse by the fact that Cooke and Wedemeyer sat in on all the meetings, meaning that they had little time to do ‘solid work’ with the British Planners. Furthermore there were personality clashes, since according to Jacob, ‘Cooke’s personality was so repellent that our people found it hard to get on with him at all.’

Wedemeyer in particular seemed to believe that the British had been somehow cheating with their meticulous preparation for the conference. ‘The British brought a much larger team of Planners and advisers,’ he grumbled. ‘I was the only one that Marshall had, and Hap Arnold didn’t have any air men with him at all…We were overwhelmed by the British. They had so many arguments. This was all pre-arranged obviously, and the strategy was prejudged and they presented a united front concerning continued operations in the Mediterranean area, which I opposed, but only through Marshall.’45 Wedemeyer was right; of course Brooke had ‘pre-arranged’ his arguments over future strategy: to have taken any other approach to what was manifestly going to be one of the most important military conferences of the twentieth century would have been profoundly negligent.

Occasionally Wedemeyer took his Anglophobia to truly absurd limits, telling his SOOHP interviewer at his farm in Maryland thirty years later that ‘There was a considerable amount of British investment in German industry in the Ruhr during World War II,’ and so ‘there was a reluctance on the part of the British to bomb certain areas. British commercial interests insisted they be avoided.’46 It is hard to think of anything more ludicrous, not least because Wedemeyer must have known that the RAF at great cost in lives tried to flatten–and also to flood–the Ruhr. But it does indicate the level of suspicion, indeed of paranoia, that existed in the mind of a senior US Planner whose subsequent writings and appearances on television programmes such as The World at War have affected our view of the making of grand strategy.

‘There was too much anti-British feeling on our side,’ Marshall admitted to his biographer Forrest Pogue after the war; ‘more than we should have had. The British were accustomed to Staff business and we were not. When we went to Casablanca the President…only wanted about five people. The British had a large Staff; they brought along a ship for them to use. I had few people with me so I was shooting off the hip. Dill had told me the British would be ready.’ Marshall privately recalled in 1949 that ‘the long ingrained traditional skill of the British in the committee system’ had shown up the ‘freshman innocence’ of the Americans at Casablanca.47 The Americans would not allow it to happen again.

Wednesday 20 January started early for Brooke and Kennedy, who drove off to go bird-watching just beyond the Casablanca aerodrome. They saw a few larks, including a calandra. ‘While we were studying it there was a curious loud gurgling noise in our ears,’ recalled Kennedy; ‘a camel had strolled up and was looking over our shoulders.’48

At 2 p.m. the Combined Chiefs of Staff ‘thrashed out’ plans for the capture of Sicily. Although it went well, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff conceded almost everything Brooke wanted, he could not help noting in his diary that Americans in general ‘are difficult though charming people to work with’, and Marshall in particular ‘has got practically no strategic vision, his thoughts revolve round the creation of forces and not on their employment. He arrived here without a single real strategic concept, he has initiated nothing in the policy for the future conduct of the war. His part has been that of somewhat clumsy criticism of the plans we put forward.’ By contrast, Brooke regarded Ernest King as ‘a shrewd and somewhat swollen headed individual’ obsessed with the Pacific war, while Arnold concerned himself solely with the air. ‘But as a team to have to discuss with they are friendliness itself, and although our discussions have become somewhat heated at times, yet our relations have never been strained.’49

Although it had been a full week since the conference began, and the Combined Chiefs of Staff had only just got down to discussing practical plans, Roosevelt was happy with progress, telling his cousin Daisy Suckley that despite what he called ‘the Winston hours’–‘sleep to 9 a.m., then morning conferences then a luncheon, then a nap for one hour, then more talk and a dinner at 8 p.m. which lasts to an average of 2 a.m.’–nonetheless ‘We are getting on very well with our Staff conferences.’

The next evening, Thursday 21 January, Brooke suddenly found himself in a difficult position since Portal, Pound and much of the Joint Planning Staff now said that they thought Operation Brimstone, the invasion of Sardinia, ought to precede or possibly replace altogether Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily. The arguments went on for three hours until midnight. ‘I have the most vivid recollection of that exhausting evening!’ Brooke wrote later. He had only just managed to persuade Portal and Pound over Husky before leaving England; now they sought to reopen the question in what amounted to the most serious mutiny against his authority during the whole course of the war.

‘All my arguments with Marshall had been based on the invasion of Sicily and I had obtained his agreement,’ recalled Brooke. Yet now the other Chiefs wished to unravel that. As well as the merits of the case itself, Brooke’s credibility with the Americans was on the line, something he could not risk losing in the coming no-holds-barred meetings at Anfa Camp. The revolt had started in the Joint Planning Staff, after which Mountbatten–who Brooke believed ‘never had any very decided opinions of his own’–had supported them. Mountbatten’s support was not significant in itself, thought Jacob, because ‘His invariable habit of butting in on detail in the middle of discussion of matters of large principle had destroyed any influence he might have had in the Committee.’50Nonetheless, with Portal and Ismay also doubtful about Husky, Brooke had a serious problem even though ‘dear old Dudley Pound was, as usual, asleep and with no views either way!’ When awake, however, Pound did not support Husky either.

Brooke, who had gone over the strategic and tactical issues in minute detail in London and was as usual certain that he was right, flatly refused to go back to tell Marshall that ‘we did not know our own minds’, which would ‘irrevocably shake their confidence in our judgement’. He thought that soon after the Allies seized the south of Sardinia the Axis would pour into the north, leading to a long and difficult campaign, and losing the chance of taking Corsica easily. ‘Being a very obstinate man, further argument only annoyed him,’ recorded Jacob, ‘and he became more and more rabidly against Sardinia, and in favour of Sicily.’ There is a slight indication that Brooke might privately not have considered the Husky plan to have been perfect, writing at the time: ‘A good plan pressed through is better than many ideal ones which are continually changing.’51 He was not about to vouchsafe this view to anyone else at the time.

It was by sheer force of character, therefore, and an implied threat of resignation sooner than go back to Marshall with a change in his proposals, that Sicily was chosen rather than Sardinia. It was a classic case of the influence of personality in strategy-making. Kennedy’s diary implies there was also another threat that Brooke used, that ‘any variation in the programme at this late stage…might result in the Americans doing nothing in the Mediterranean’. As Brooke wrote, ‘so few people ever realize the infinite difficulties of maintaining an object or a plan and refusing to be driven off it by other people for a thousand good reasons!’ Although he was completely outnumbered by all his British interlocutors, he was on strong ground since Churchill, Roosevelt and Marshall now all supported Sicily over Sardinia. Churchill supported Brooke because whatever was done in 1943 ‘must look big to Stalin’ and he described the capture of Sardinia as ‘that piddling operation’.52 As well as wanting an attack on Sicily, Churchill pressed for one on the Dodecanese soon afterwards, and claimed that he also wanted an assault in northern France in the summer if possible, as well the Anakim attack on Burma in the autumn. Some of these were of course mutually exclusive, but, in Jacob’s view, ‘He was indulging to the full in his usual pastime of having his cake and eating it–or trying to.’

Friday 22 January saw no fewer than six meetings, as Roosevelt was anxious to leave Casablanca. Arnold noted that at the 10 a.m. Combined Chiefs of Staff meeting, ‘much to everyone’s surprise’, they managed to ‘agree on a lot of things’. They concurred on the Husky plans, to the relief of Brooke who had feared the Joint Planners might try a last-minute ambush. Marshall spoke with ‘great earnestness and feeling’ about ‘sticking to the big thing. He said he had come to England before to advocate the invasion of France and had been put off with North Africa.’ If Husky fell through, and he had to accept Brimstone instead, then ‘he thought they would have to find some one else to sit in his chair’.53

For both Brooke and Marshall to threaten resignation over Husky within twelve hours of each other shows how important the capture of Sicily was to both of them, and doubtless explains why the Joint Planning Staff did not bother to pursue its campaign against the operation. After the meeting Brooke told Kennedy: ‘So it is settled that we go bald-headed for Husky.’ From one ornithologist to another, the eloquent image was of a bald-headed eagle swooping down on its prey. Before lunch, when they arrived at Roosevelt’s villa for photographs, Kennedy noticed the small ramps that had been fixed to allow the President’s chair to be wheeled smoothly from room to room. ‘What a fine head and face he has,’ he wrote. ‘It is pitiful to see that great torso and those withered legs.’54 (Such were Kennedy’s powers of observation that he even spotted that Churchill had had a button sewn on to his left shoulder in order to hold his gas mask in place.) Arnold was happy to be summoned to the villa, because in the great wartime conferences he had observed that ‘when the photographers appeared, the end was usually in sight.’ They were all exhausted, with Brooke noting, ‘It has been quite the hardest 10 days I have had from the point of view of difficulty of handling the work.’55Kennedy thought that much had been achieved in the time, ‘But it is a good thing it is nearly over for we should all be getting on each other’s nerves if we stayed here much longer.’ He was good at understatement.

The last meeting, at 9.30 p.m. on Saturday 23 January, broke up with effusive words of congratulation, with Marshall speaking of his ‘appreciation of the readiness of the British Chiefs of Staff to understand the US point of view and the fine spirit of co-operation which they had shown during the discussions’. Brooke answered in similar vein, saying that ‘Mutual appreciation of each other’s problems was only possible through personal contacts.’ Even Admiral King claimed for the record that ‘he fully agreed with Sir Alan Brooke as to the great value of the basic strategic plan which had been worked out at the Conference. In his view this was the biggest step forward to the winning of the war…The discussions which had been held had enabled a true meeting of minds to take place between the British and US Chiefs of Staff.’56

For all these flowery words, the Americans were convinced that the British had had the best of Symbol. Britain’s success there was all the more extraordinary considering the wild mismatch in projected force strengths between her and the United States. When Portal and Arnold compared notes at the conference about the future sizes of their air forces by December 1944, the discrepancy was startling, even if one bears in mind that the figures did not take into account the rest of the British Commonwealth. Portal, recalled Arnold, ‘was shooting for 537 squadrons, or 9,870 airplanes’ and a 1.2 million-man RAF. Arnold, on the other hand, was planning on having 52,000 aircraft and a 2.36 million-strong USAAF.57

At the concluding press conference on 24 January 1943, Roosevelt stated that General Ulysses S. Grant had been known as ‘Unconditional Surrender’ Grant, and that the Allies were also demanding unconditional surrender from the Germans and Japanese (but not the Italians) in the present struggle. It is often argued that this insistence led the Germans and Japanese to fight more fanatically than would otherwise have been the case, although it cannot be proven. What is plainly untrue, however, is that the policy merely sprang fully formed from Roosevelt’s mind without any consultation with Marshall or Churchill. In fact Churchill had not only given prior approval but had cabled the War Cabinet over the issue four days earlier, and his colleagues had not objected. Although subsequently both Marshall and Churchill claimed they had been surprised by Roosevelt’s announcement of the policy at the press conference, they both later accepted that they had in fact been consulted beforehand. On 7 January Marshall stated that Allied morale would be helped by the uncompromising demand, and Stalin’s suspicions allayed.58 ‘While the words were obviously of value to Goebbels,’ Lord Halifax wrote of this new departure, ‘the chaps at the top, knowing that there was only a halter for them at the finish of this business, would have made their people fight to the end anyway.’59

The harassed, overworked and fiercely suspicious Wedemeyer was convinced that Casablanca had been a catastrophe which dragged the United States into Brooke’s Mediterranean strategy against her will and contrary to her original intentions. ‘Our own Chiefs of Staff were not at all in accord with the British,’ he recalled fifteen years later. ‘But General Marshall’s relationship with Roosevelt differed subtly from the relationship that existed between the British Chiefs of Staff and the Prime Minister. They had frequent, almost daily, access to their political leader…[which] made for unanimity of purpose and ensured a united front whenever the Britishers marched off to conferences. They always knew in advance what they wanted. They had aims.’ Of course, in Wedemeyer’s world, these were not the defeat of the Axis powers: ‘Usually their aims could be related to Empire or their post-war position in the world of commerce.’60

Rather than listening to Marshall and King, claimed Wedemeyer, Roosevelt had been ‘surrounded by many drugstore strategists’, among whom he numbered Hopkins, FDR’s counsel and chief speechwriter Judge Samuel Rosenman, his military aide Major-General Edwin ‘Pa’ Watson and Averell Harriman. Wedemeyer believed that, when the President demanded Germany’s unconditional surrender in January 1943, it was because ‘It had been driven home to him by many of his closest cronies like [Justice] Frankfurter, Morgenthau and Judge Rosenman–all Jews who actually felt bitter against the Germans. No question about it, they convinced the President that this time the peace terms must be signed on German soil.’61 Wedemeyer had clearly imbibed more than just military theory from the time he spent in pre-war Berlin.

On Saturday 23 January the Eighth Army entered Tripoli, the major Axis supply and entry point for North Africa. The retreating Germans had tried to raze the city, harbour and airfield, but these were quickly repaired. After another meeting of the Combined Chiefs of Staff at 10 a.m., there was the third and last plenary session, held in the boiling heat of Roosevelt’s villa.

In these somewhat unlikely surroundings, the Chiefs of Staff joined the President and Prime Minister to go through each paragraph of the final report together, occasionally making slight modifications and amendments. ‘It has been a wonderfully good conference in the end,’ thought Kennedy, as well he might considering how many British desiderata were incorporated into the final text. After lunch that day, Brooke, Dill and Kennedy had motored out to the invasion beach at Fédala, and came away feeling that Torch had been very lucky in terms of weather and lack of opposition; they concluded that more smoke and air cover would be needed in future amphibious operations.

‘Finished the Staff conferences,’ Roosevelt told Suckley, ‘all agreed de Gaulle a headache–said yesterday he was Jeanne d’Arc and today that he is Georges Clemenceau!’62 Although de Gaulle’s handshake with Giraud had been duly photographed, neither would agree on subordination to the other. The French North African Army therefore stayed separate from the Free French forces, an absurd arrangement militarily.

At Casablanca Churchill believed–or professed to believe–that Roundup could still be mounted in 1943. That placed him on the same side as Roosevelt and Marshall, and put Brooke in the perennially dangerous position of being out of step. Fortunately, however, Churchill’s strong desire to see the Allies marching into Rome and overthrowing Mussolini meant that Roundup considerations were kept, in the American phrase, ‘on the back-burner’ during 1943. By contrast, Roosevelt did not support Marshall to the extent that he needed him to in order to defeat the Mediterranean strategy. At Casablanca, no less than in London the previous July, Marshall was the odd man out of the quartet of power, and his strategic views suffered as a result. The fact that he went to Casablanca opposed to any further action in the Mediterranean, but left it having threatened to resign if Sicily were not attacked, shows how far his views had been brought around by circumstances, primarily by lack of presidential support.

‘Brooke’s personality and drive have accomplished great things,’ concluded Kennedy, who was inclined to a degree of hero-worship of his boss. ‘Both sides are really convinced now that we are on the right lines and we can now drive ahead with the war on a co-ordinated plan.’ The historians of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, Field Marshal Lord Bramall and General Sir William Jackson, believed that the whole Allied grand strategy of the war–the WW1 Arcadia plan as updated by CCS 94–might have been overturned by the Americans at Casablanca if Brooke had not been by Churchill’s side there.63 The stakes had therefore simply been too high for Brooke to indulge his own first desire–indeed any general’s–which was to lead an army into battle.

Brooke had got almost all he wanted from Casablanca, but at a very high price. For him it was never glad confident morning again. Too many Americans in very senior positions were certain that he had driven too hard a bargain over too many policy areas–and from too weak a position–to permit another conference like that. Portal explained this feeling shortly after the war, saying of Symbol that:

One of the greatest snags was that the American Chiefs of Staff were always looking for hidden motives, whenever we put up a plan. They were the victims of the common American impression that the British are frightfully cunning and will do you down at every turn. They were aware of the popular American conception that the British are much more clever than the Americans in diplomatic negotiation, and they always seemed to us frightened of being trapped…They were convinced that we wanted to use American troops to further our own political ambitions, and we never really allayed this fear.64

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