Casablanca: Unconditional Surrender and a Strategic Error

casablanca movie cover

Like so many people, the movie Casablanca is at the top of my favorites list. It is set in 1941 when Morocco was still under the control of the Nazi collaborating Vichy government in Unoccupied France. In the final scene, Rick and Captain Renault walk off arm and arm into the fog, leaving the viewer to wonder what kind of trouble they will get into as they join the resistance. What the movie makers could not have known was that a year later, the Allies would begin the successful invasion and occupation of western North Africa through Operation Torch (November 8-12, 1942). The plan was to trap Rommel’s forces in a two pronged attack: the Americans and British advancing from the west through Morocco and Algeria  and the main body of British forces from the east under Montgomery’s command. Montgomery was already putting considerable pressure on Rommel as British troops drove toward a decisive victory in Egypt at the Second Battle of El Alamein (October 23-November 11, 1942).

The beaches near Casablanca were some of the first landing points during Operation Torch. It was hoped that the

Allied landing points, Operation Torch, Nov. 1942.

Allied landing points, Operation Torch, Nov. 1942.

the Vichy led French forces would not put up too much resistance, but they were more determined than anyone realized. While British troops were battle hardened, American troops had not seen action and suffered more casualties than anticipated.[1] [2] Despite the Americans’ inexperience, on November 10, General George Patton’s forces surrounded Casablanca and the city surrendered an hour before a final assault was to begin. From that point on, Rommel’s and his Afrika Korps’ fates were sealed .[3] [4]

American troops on a Casablanca street.

American troops on a Casablanca street.

With the success of Operation Torch, Allied leaders decided it was time for a face-to-face planning session. Of World War II’s Allied conferences, those near war’s end (Malta, Yalta, and Potsdam) figure most prominently in written and photographic material. No one would argue their importance, but an earlier, lesser-known conference had an impact equal to or possibly greater than that of its better-known brothers.


During January 14-24 1943, the First Allied Conference, a.k.a. Casablanca Conference or Anfa Conference, was convened. Franklyn D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle, and Henri Giraud met at Casablanca’s now demolished, original Anfa Hotel. A major Red Army offensive against the Germans prevented Stalin’s attendance. [5] Although many items were discussed during the conference, the main objectives were to plan the Italian Campaign, to begin plans for the cross-channel invasion of 1944, to unify the Free French fighting authorities in London and Algiers, and perhaps most important, to agree upon an Allied policy of surrender for all Axis powers. Borrowing the term and concept from American Civil War Union General Ulysses S. Grant, it was Roosevelt who proposed and pushed for a policy of unconditional surrender. There is evidence that the other conference attendees were not totally on board with the concept. In fact, it is believed that Roosevelt may have surprised his fellow conferees by announcing the policy at the conference’s end without prior warning. [6]

L-R, Henri Giraurd, Roosevelt, de Gaulle, Churchill in front of the Anfa Hotel, cite of the First Allied Conference, 1943

L-R, Henri Giraud, Roosevelt, de Gaulle, Churchill in front of the Anfa Hotel, cite of the First Allied Conference, 1943

Whatever the case, the official U.S. account found at the U.S. Department of State, Office of the Historian website states the following:

The policy of demanding unconditional surrender was an outgrowth of Allied war aims, most notably the Atlantic Charter of August 1941, which called for an end to wars of aggression and the promotion of disarmament and collective security. Roosevelt wanted to avoid the situation that had followed the First World War, when large segments of German society supported the position, so deftly exploited by the Nazi party, that Germany had not been defeated militarily, but rather, had been “stabbed in the back” by liberals, pacifists, socialists, communists, and Jews. Roosevelt also wished to make it clear that neither the United States nor Great Britain would seek a separate peace with the Axis powers. [7]

Allies around the conference table at the Anfa Conference, a.k.a., First Allied Conference or Casablanca Conference.

Allies around the conference table at the Anfa Conference, a.k.a., First Allied Conference or Casablanca Conference.

Arguments have been made for and against the policy of unconditional surrender. It may have lengthened the war, which had undoubted consequences for the French and German Resistance movements [8], but the commitment to ridding the world of National Socialism and Adolph Hitler must surely be seen as the greater good. The proof can be found in present day Germany, a constitutional democracy with the strongest economy in the European Union. We will never know how world history might have differed had the Axis powers been allowed to sue for peace terms, as some German generals and highly placed German officials hoped as early as 1942. It is conceivable that Hitler might have survived the war and that the Nuremberg War Crimes trials might never have taken place, leaving major Nazi officials in charge of the peace within Germany. What an appalling scenario!

perf5.000x8.000.inddOne small, but incredible detail uncovered during my research on the Casablanca Conference so fired my imagination that it inspired me to write my third published work of historical fiction, Casablanca: Appointment at Dawn.

Secret communications were intercepted and decoded by both sides throughout the war, so it came as no surprise that the Nazis were aware of the conference before it was held. But for a simple error in translation, the success of the conference, perhaps outcome of the war itself, might have been quite different. The Germans had intercepted a message containing the location of the conference and the general time period during which it would take place. The translator, however, made one strategic mistake. He translated Casablanca, Spanish for “white house”, as the White House in Washington, D.C. The error was eventually discovered, but too late for the Nazis to disrupt the conference. Like many authors of historical fiction, I contemplated the research and played “what if” with some of the details.

What if an OSS officer, who speaks perfectly unaccented German and looks like a poster boy for Himmler’s SS, is given a mission so vital that it could determine the outcome of the Casablanca Conference, possibly the entire war? What if an innocent bystander, an army nurse, is sucked into this vortex of intrigue, spies, double agents, and murder? What if they have no choice but to learn to trust each other in order to survive? Casablanca: Appointment at Dawn has the answers and much more.

To read an excerpt from Casablanca: Appointment at Dawn:

Pinterest board for Casablanca: Appointment at Dawn containing annotated photographs pertinent to the plot and the history of the conference.

Casablanca: Appointment at Dawn, available in print and ebook:


  1., accessed 9/7/2015.
  2., accessed 9/7/2015.
  3., accessed 9/7/2015.
  4., accessed 9/7/2015.
  5., retrieved October 13, 2104.
  6., retrieved October 13, 2014.
  7., retrieved October 13, 2104.
  8. Chen, Peter C., retrieved October 13, 2014.