From 1942 to 1944 one subject dominated Allied strategic debate—the creation of a Second Front in Europe. This thorny issue caused friction between America, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union. It topped the agenda of the January 1943 summit meeting between FDR and Winston Churchill at Casablanca, Morocco, held shortly after the Allied invasion of North Africa.
Though Soviet leader Stalin didn’t attend this meeting, his feelings were clear. For 18 months, the Soviets had single-handedly resisted a massive German invasion. Stalin demanded that his allies strike quickly at the heart of Hitler’s empire in northwest Europe, establishing a “second from” to draw off some German forces from the USSR.
FDR’s military advisers favored the earliest possible assault on northwest Europe. But Churchill argued that a large buildup of forces was necessary to ensure a successful invasion. Because this was unlikely in 1943, he pushed for a more limited, “peripheral” strategy of attack along the edges of the Axis empire, starting with an assault on Sicily. Meanwhile, a buildup of forces in Britain for an invasion of northwest Europe would begin. Roosevelt, eager to keep the American public focused on the fighting in Europe, agreed.
To ease Stalin’s disappointment, FDR offered a signal of Anglo-American resolve: he announced the Allies would only accept an “unconditional surrender” from the Axis Powers.