In January 1943, America's President Roosevelt and Britain's Winston Churchill held a conference in Casablanca, Morocco. Russia's Stalin declined to attend (citing the fighting at Stalingrad). One "real" reason may be that there was no totally safe, clear, path from Moscow to Morocco. (Stalin attended a later conference in Tehran, Iran, in November 1943, with the two others, at a place and time that was probably safer than Casablanca in January, 1943.)

This was at a time when there was a German army (and air force) at large in Tunisia, and German submarines were operating through most of the Atlantic Ocean (although their level of activity around North Africa was unexpectedly low). In February, 1943, the Germans under Rommel launched a counterattack through Kasesrine Pass, which, had it succeeded, might have driven the Anglo-American armies back across Algeria, toward Morocco.

Was it possible, under the circumstances, for the Allied armies, fleet and air force to "guarantee" the safety of the two world leaders? Or did Roosevelt and Churchill deliberately hold a conference in a "dangerous" place to (quite literally) "rally the troops?"

1 Answer 1

  1. Casablanca is further from Tunis than London is from Berlin. Would you have regarded London in January 1943 as safe enough?
  2. The Vichy French had switched sides easily enough a two months earlier, so there was no realistic sense of domestic trouble in Casablanca, or French NW Africa.
  3. The premise that that German attack at the Kasserine Pass might have thrown the Allies out of NW Africa falls under the realm of alternative history; wasn't happening no-how, no-way. It caught completely green American recruits, under trained and under poor leadership, by surprise, and succeeded to a much greater extent than it truly had any right to.
  4. Churchill regularly proved his bravery during the Blitz, wandering around London at all hours of the day or night; he might easily have engaged in a caper such as you suggest. My belief is that Stalin, and Roosevelt at least through the 1944 election, regarded themselves as indispensable, and would thus not have put themselves in personal jeopardy.

With the battle for Stalingrad still underway, one can easily imagine Stalin's potential difficulties in getting to Casablanca. Any further East might similarly be problematic for Churchill and Roosevelt at that point in time.

Also, the troops needed no rallying by January 1943. The writing is already on the wall with Paulus surrounded in Stalingrad, and Rommel/Kesselring for all intents and purposes already thrown out of North Africa. Midway has already broken the Japanese navy. (Only Hirohito's war council could lose the war in an afternoon, as they did by rolling the dice so emphatically with that battle.)


London to Berlin:     580 miles ( 932 km)
Casablanca to Tunis: 1027 miles (1653 km)
Alexandria to Tunis: 1194 miles (1922 km)

Update #2:
While the Henkel 111 had the range (1800 km) to fly a mission to Casablanca from Tunis, it's cruising speed of 310 km would have meant surviving 5 hours of attack by Allied fighters to arrive over the target. As a level bomber it would have had to flatten an area probably of a square mile or so in order to have a realistic chance of eliminating the assembled leaders, even assuming they failed to relocate within the city. That latter means getting one or two bombers through is most likely insufficient to achieve the goal, most of the wing would have to get through for a good probability of success.

Update - re safety of Stalin flying from Moscow to Casablanca and back

In Hinge of Fate, Churchill records his itinerary from Gibraltar to Moscow in August 1942 as:

Gibraltar -> Cairo (over the Spanish and Vichy territories for about the first 4 hours in daylight and with an armed escort, undisturbed though nerve-wracking!) -> Tehran -> Kuibyshev -> Moscow. However the planned stop-over at Kuibyshev was skipped (to WST's regret at missing an expected feast) as weather was favourable and time urgent.

FDR writes (ibid p 668) to Churchill:

My route [to Casablanca] would be either from here to Trinidad and thence to Dakar and thence north, or from here to Natal (Brazil) and across to Liberia or Freetown, and north from there.

  • 4
    London is "closer" to Berlin than Casablanca to Tunis as the crow flies. But guarded by a large anti-tank ditch aka the English Channel.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Dec 1, 2013 at 18:55
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    I think the Mediterranean counts as fair anti-tank ditch also. Kesselring was making surprise tank attacks on Casablanca from Tunis with the same likelihood of making surprise tank attacks on Alexandria (see update of comparative distances above). Commented Dec 1, 2013 at 19:14
  • I completely agree with this answer. From November 1942 to the final collapse in May 1943, the Axis was constantly defending, and had absolutely no offensive capabilities outside the boundaries of Tunisia, let alone the center of Morocco.
    – Olivier
    Commented Dec 3, 2013 at 9:43
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    @Luiz: In Hinge of Fate, Churchill discusses (pp 661-665) how initial plans for an early 1943 summit first consider Reykjavik and Khartoum before settling on a location in North Africa, initally supposed to be Marakech. In a letter to Stalin of 3 Dec. 42 he writes: ".... [North Africa] is far better than the Iceland project we talked of in Moscow. You could get to any point desired in three days, I on two, and the President in a bout the same time as you. ...." 1/2 Commented Sep 23, 2018 at 2:14
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    @Luiz: From Hinge of Fate again: WST's planned route to Moscow in Aug. '42 was Gibraltar -> Cairo (over the Spanish and Vichy territories, with an armed escort, in daylight!) -> Tehran -> Kuibyshev -> Moscow. However the planned stop-over at Kuibyshev was skipped (to WST's regret at missing an expected feast) as weather was favourable and time urgent. Commented Sep 24, 2018 at 17:24

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