“Well there it is. It won’t work, but you must bloody well make it,” said the chief of Britain’s military leaders, when he gave orders to begin planning for what became known as Operation Overlord. While many view D-Day as one of the most successful operations of World War II, most aren’t aware of the intensive year of planning and political tension between the Allies that preceded the amphibious military landing on June 6, 1944. This intriguing history reveals how Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt, while on a fishing trip in the middle of World War II, altered his attitude toward Winston Churchill and became an advocate for Operation Overlord. Philip Padgett challenges the known narrative of this watershed moment in history in his examination of the possible diplomatic link between Normandy and the atomic bomb. He shows how the Allies came to agree on a liberation strategy that began with D-Day—and the difficult forging of British and American scientific cooperation that produced the atomic bomb. At its core this story is about how a new generation of leaders found the courage to step beyond national biases in a truly Allied endeavor to carry out one of history’s most successful military operations.
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Symbol, the Casablanca Conference
From a worm's eye viewpoint it was apparent that we were confronted by generations and generations of experience in committee work, in diplomacy, and in rationalizing points of view. They had us on the defensive practically all the time.
— Gen. Albert C. Wedemeyer, U.S. Army, February 1943
One cannot help suspecting that the U.S. Military Authorities who are now in complete control wish to gain an advance upon us, and feel that, having now benefitted from the fruits of our early endeavors, they will not suffer unduly by casting us aside.
— Message to Winston Churchill from Sir John Anderson, Tube Alloys director, January 20, 1943
In November 1942, the Moroccan sky had reverberated from the shock waves of the bombs and naval guns of an invading Allied force. Now the January stillness was broken by throbbing bass quartets of heavy aero engines. From north and south, the top political and military leadership of the United Kingdom and the United States were converging on Casablanca to parley. Their ally, the Soviet Union, would not be represented because Joseph Stalin, although invited, claimed he needed to remain in Moscow to direct military operations.
Arriving first from the south in two four-engine C-54 transports on January 11, 1943, were the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) of the U.S. Navy, Army, and Army Air Force. They included Army Chief of Staff Gen. George C. Marshall, Adm. Ernest King, commander of the Navy, and Lt. Gen. Henry "Hap" Arnold, Army Air Force commander. Traveling with the JCS to Casablanca was British Army Field Marshal Sir John Dill, head of the British military liaison in Washington. Dill's perceptiveness, tact, and his friendship with Marshall would be crucial to the Anglo-American alliance at Casablanca and in the year ahead.
Marshall had won Roosevelt's respect when he alone openly disagreed with the president during a White House meeting five years earlier. Although he was told by others that his dissent had ended his career, Marshall was chosen by FDR in 1938 to be Army chief of staff. Admiral King had served throughout the Navy that he now led. During the First World War, King had spent time with the Royal Navy. Abrasive and authoritarian by nature, King came out of that experience as an Anglophobe as well. But because he was intelligent and insightful, King often would bring the British and American chiefs to the central point of their discussion. Arnold learned to fly from the Wright Brothers. He was an aviation pioneer and a firm advocate for air power. The American chiefs arrived fresh in crisp uniforms, but with limited staff and little preparation. This was a mistake.
Having arrived in Miami, Florida, secretly by train from Washington the previous night, Roosevelt took off aboard the Pan American Airlines flying boat Dixie Clipper for Casablanca on January 11 at 6:00 a.m. His party flew a three-day, mirror image J-shaped course via the Caribbean and Brazil to West Africa. At Bathurst on the Gambia River, January 13, they transferred to an Army Air Force C-54, nicknamed The Sacred Cow, for the onward flight to Casablanca.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a wealthy, sixth-generation patrician from New York's Hudson River valley, unpretentious, and a Democrat. After serving as assistant secretary of the Navy he loved, he was stricken with polio. Roosevelt never gave in to this affliction. He was elected governor of New York in 1928 and president in 1932 in the depths of the Great Depression. In a time when there was concern for democracy's viability against the challenges of Fascism and Communism, and when populist domestic demagogues preached division, FDR governed through optimistic pragmatism and appeals for unity. His New Deal eventually brought the country through the Depression, only to face a new world war. FDR came to Casablanca halfway into his unprecedented third term and with politics never far from his mind.
The flight to Casablanca made FDR the first U.S. president to fly and the first since Woodrow Wilson to depart the country while in office. In North Africa, he would become the first U.S. president to review troops in the field since Abraham Lincoln. The president brought with him his close adviser, Harry Hopkins, and selected White House staff. FDR's chief of staff and chairman of the JCS, Adm. William Leahy, took sick en route and had to be left in Trinidad to recover.
To Casablanca from the north on January 13 came four Royal Air Force B-24 bombers, converted into transports. Each flight had arced well out to the west over the Atlantic to avoid detection from German-occupied France or neutral but Axis-sympathizing Spain. Churchill's B-24, Commando, carried the British prime minister, his immediate staff, and FDR's emissary, Averill Harriman. Crowded onto the three following B24s in "grim conditions" were the British military Chiefs of Staff (COS) and their support. Led by the chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS), Gen. Sir Alan Brooke, were Admiral of the Fleet Sir Dudley Pound, Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles Portal, Combined Operations commander Vice Adm. Lord Louis Mountbatten, and others.
More than three years of war had tested the British chiefs, men already hardened by combat in the First World War. Until recently, they had fought this war desperately short of resources and come back from defeat after defeat. Each had a worldview shaped by the experience of empire. Gen. Sir Alan Brooke was an exemplar strategist who seemed perpetually critical of those around him and personally unhappy. Professional in his public demeanor, Brooke was scathing in his personal diary. Under unrelenting pressure from the Germans, Pound had kept Britain's maritime lifelines open. A fighter and bomber pilot in World War I, Portal had been a pioneer in the use of air power for imperial policing of tribal areas. That became part of the base of experience from which developed the interwar notion that an adversary population could be bombed into political submission. Mountbatten, who had risen quickly, had a reputation for dash to the point of recklessness that had been deepened by the disastrous August 1942 Dieppe raid. But from his experience of combined operations, Mountbatten brought a readiness to innovate to the prospect of an eventual return to the Continent.
By January 1943, Churchill already had led a full and influential life, rich in adventure. Becoming Britain's prime minister at the country's most desperate hour in May 1940, he rallied the British people with his eloquent determination while secretly beating back domestic advocates for capitulation. Serving as his own minister of defense, Churchill had a direct involvement in leading Britain's war and day-to-day presence in its councils that could intimidate organized dissent, even when his chiefs disagreed with his ideas. He could drive his ministers and military chiefs to distraction, particularly Brooke, with his fire hose of "action this day" memoranda and fits of temper. But Churchill kept his subordinates informed of his actions and thinking while Roosevelt kept his cabinet and military chiefs guessing.
Difficult and cold, the British flights also brought the prospect of a subtropical respite from winter and London's wartime privation. So, clad in a silk nightshirt, Churchill nearly froze on his flight. The COS arrived tired and disheveled. However, the British had been preceded by a large, well-prepared, and equipped support team that included an innovative floating headquarters ship, HMS Bulolo, which was a signal advantage.
For the site of the conference, code-named Symbol, an Anglo-American team had selected Anfa, a Phoenician town five miles west of Casablanca with a view of the Atlantic Ocean. The airport, two miles away, could accommodate the heavy B-24s. Easily protected in the middle of a traffic circle with fourteen comfortable, even lavish villas nearby was the hilltop Anfa Hotel. With four stories and wrap-around balconies, the hotel featured Le Restaurant Panoramique in the center of a rooftop terrace. Rounded and painted white with the occupying Americans' stars and stripes snapping in the breeze, the little art deco hotel resembled an excursion steamer putting out for a jaunt on the nearby ocean. Or was it a flagship for the villas? Commandeered together, they became "Anfa Camp" for the Symbol Conference.
Britain and the United States were convening in Casablanca to address the open question of global strategy for the coming year, particularly how best to reenter the European continent and defeat the Axis in the west. Commanded by Lt. Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, the successful November 1942 landing of a 107,000-man Anglo-American army in Morocco and Algeria put the Allies at the beginning of a new phase of the war. They were on the offensive. Foreseeable at the start of 1943, in the fresh knowledge of the cost to win, was the challenge ahead. Although the 1942 victories of Midway, El Alamein, and Stalingrad in its final phase were having greatly positive consequences, they were but an opening. These hard-fought battles had delivered the Allies out of a defensive war to the geographic threshold of taking the offense onto the Continent and in the Pacific against still-formidable enemies.
Should the Allies misstep, Germany conceivably could force a favorable outcome for itself in the form of a stalemate, possibly yielding an armistice. Distraction from the war in the Pacific risked allowing Japan the opportunity to entrench its forward position to the point of impregnability. If the British and American teams arriving in Casablanca needed a cautionary metaphor to balance the flush of recent victories, they had only to look to their successfully landed North African army's current situation. Advance to the east was bogged down in Tunisia's winter cold and mud.
Soon after U.S. entry into the war in December 1941, the Americans and the British faced imminent threats of defeat both in Europe and the Pacific. They responded by agreeing at the Arcadia Conference in Washington to establish a critically important, ultimately successful body to command their worldwide fight. The British Chiefs of Staff, navy, army, and air force, and their American counterparts stood up as a Combined Chiefs of Staff (CCS) to prosecute the war globally from Washington. Their permanent representatives met daily in Washington, and the chiefs themselves met at Anglo-American summits. In Casablanca, over just ten days, the CCS would hold their fifty-fifth through sixty-ninth meetings.
Creation of the facility for defining and directing collective action, however, was far from a guarantee of Anglo-American agreement on what was needed and how to achieve it. Although Churchill and Roosevelt quickly developed an affinity for each other, whether or not Churchill saw this quality in the president, each man remained firm in pursuit of his nation's interests. Privately, Churchill was dismissive of FDR's intellect and thought him malleable. The prime minister was to learn otherwise. The British and American military chiefs and their staffs came to their alliance with very different views of the world, their nation's role in it, threats, and how to deal with them. The British and Americans were facing a harsh reality.
The bond of collective security forged in winning the First World War had been broken in intervening years by corrosive misperception, bias, and resentment. That could not now be reversed easily or quickly, even to meet shared existential threats. Perhaps this was inevitable between two cultures whose similarity could be as deceptive as their military traditions were different. Prevailing over the many Allied military disasters and near-disasters of 1942 had come at the cost of accelerated and intensified Anglo-American friction. Everyone gathering in Casablanca knew that the now urgent question drawing them together, offensive strategy had already been their frequent ground for conflict.
At the highest level, the United States and United Kingdom were in agreement that Germany was the most dangerous enemy. Japan could not win standing alone. But if the Allies were distracted to defeat Japan first, Germany — allowed time and latitude to stymy the Soviet Union and to consolidate the captured resources of occupied Europe — could become impregnable. Thus the Allied strategy of "Germany first" rested on a compelling but intellectual argument. For Americans, however, both among the public and tugging at the military leadership, particularly in the U.S. Navy, the emotional case favored strategic priority for retaliating against a Japan that had attacked first in the Pacific.
In the American public's divided opinion on war priorities, Roosevelt and his Democratic Party perceived a nascent political threat. Republicans were seeking to build in 1944 on gains they had won in the off-year November 1942 congressional elections. An open question in 1943 was whether Roosevelt would seek reelection to the presidency in 1944 for a fourth term. Public adulation of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who had escaped the devastating defeat and capture of his American and Filipino troops, was seen as a potential Republican election opportunity. In 1942, through Michigan senator Arthur Vandenberg and Connecticut congresswoman Claire Booth Luce, Republicans had floated a "MacArthur for president in 1944" bubble in which MacArthur, commanding in the Southwest Pacific, was an innocent if somewhat interested party. Anticipating attractiveness to voters in the 1944 presidential contest, which might flow from altered public opinion, especially if FDR declined to run for a fourth term, the "draft MacArthur" advocates were preparing in 1943 to appeal again to voter emotions with a "Pacific first" political campaign strategy.
Not coincidentally, Madame Chiang Kai-shek was embarking on a barnstorm tour of the United States to build on the public's demonstrated instinct to support China. Arriving in Casablanca with the sting of his party's off-year election drubbing still fresh, FDR knew that Madame Chiang was to address both houses of the U.S. Congress in February, a month away.
Among Roosevelt's military chiefs, competition for resources often led the Army and Navy to divided positions on strategy. The European and Pacific theaters demanded generation of military forces and weapons in unprecedented quantities, even as response to the theaters' differing geographies fueled interservice competition. The U.S. Navy's leadership constantly pleaded for more resources for the Pacific where in fact the Army and Navy both struggled to fulfill bare minimal needs. The Navy tended to characterize allocations to the European theater as taking from the Pacific to the benefit of the Army in a zero-sum game. Given the shortage of steel and other materials, this often described the actual if not the intended result.
Although their motives might diverge, the U.S. Army and the Navy, nevertheless, could join in reaction to British initiatives that diverted the American buildup of forces in the British Isles away from the quick-thrust strategy of cross-Channel attack the JCS wanted. Pressed to their limit, the JCS's response was to play the Pacific card. In July 1942, they had recommended to Roosevelt that if cross-Channel attack was not to be the Allies' strategy, then the United States should shift attention and resources away from Europe and toward a "Pacific first" strategy, only to be rebuffed by FDR. Nevertheless, in CCS meetings, the Americans would warn the British of this U.S. contingency option. They would do so again at Casablanca.
Roosevelt, his Republican Secretary of War Henry Stimson, and Harry Hopkins took in a larger picture and generally sought balance between the two opposing views. They tended to the more measured view that the British had not been wrong in 1942 to resist a cross-Channel attack as premature. Resolute in their determination that Hitler must be defeated first, they also were concerned about leaning too far in favor of further British proposals for operations in the Mediterranean and the Balkans. Doing so would risk a public perception of the prospect for a longer war for objectives peripheral to U.S. interests, specifically objectives of the British Empire. Secondary to Roosevelt and Hopkins's objective goals for the war, but not excluded from their considerations was that this could redound to the advantage of domestic political opponents who would not put Europe first.
The U.S. military chiefs went into World War II with a sequential strategy for fighting the global conflict, based on the goal of winning a short war. First, defeat Germany in Europe as the most dangerous threat, shift to the Pacific to defeat Japan, and then come home. Before 1943 ended, the third objective, coming home, would be deferred indefinitely by a transformational change in perception of the role of the United States in the world.
Excerpted from "Advocating Overlord"
Copyright © 2018 Philip Padgett.
Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA PRESS.
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Table of Contents
Contents List of Illustrations List of Acronyms List of Code Names and Military Operations Note on Time Prologue 1. Symbol, the Casablanca Conference 2. Campaigns of Attrition 3. cossac’s Ninety Days to Deliver a Plan 4. The Trident Conference’s Illusion of Agreement 5. Mission to Moscow 6. cossac’s Plan Emerges 7. The Green Hornet 8. Hammer and Tongs 9. Revolt in London and Washington 10. The Fishing Trip 11. From One Attorney to Another 12. The Happy Time at Birch Island 13. Plain Speaking on the Potomac 14. A Presidential Directive 15. Blenheim on the Hudson 16. Overlord Reaffirmed in Quebec 17. Bolero Unleashed 18. Sealing the Quebec Decisions Epilogue Acknowledgments Notes Bibliography Index