FDR, Churchill and their secret code names for Casablanca

FDR with Winston Churchill at the Casablanca Conference, January 1943.

The year 1943 dawned with the slightest glimmer of hope that the balance of power in World War 2 was slowly shifting in the Allies favor. In the Pacific the Americans had won a bloody victory on Guadalcanal, and on the Eastern Front the Russian were slowly driving the Nazis back. The invasion of North Africa created a major beachhead and while General Rommel was still a serious threat, the momentum, favored the Allies.

President Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill scheduled a secret conference to be held in Casablanca, Morocco in early January, 1943 to determine overall strategy for the next phase of the war. The conference was given the code name SYMBOL. The two leaders had become good friends and they shared a certain sense of humor even in these perilous times.

President Roosevelt sent a secret cable – #249 – to Churchill, whom he addressed as “Former Naval Person,” on January 1, regarding a statement he wanted the U.S. and British censors to issue regarding the upcoming conference.

“The President is going on another trip in the immediate future and for security reasons no comment should be made on his whereabouts or the purpose of the trip until a release is issued by this office. “

The Prime Minister responded the next day with his own secret cable – #251 – that added a reference to the need for code names for himself and FDR.

“In SYMBOL I am “Air Commodore ‘Frankland.’” Suggest you also choose an alias and one for Harry.”

Harry refers to Harry Hopkins, one of FDR’s closest advisors who had also become good friends with Churchill.

FDR responds immediately upon reading the cable revealing that:

“The alias from this end will be (a) Don Quioxte and (b) Sancho Panza.”

Churchill responds the following day with his own suggestion:

“However did you think of such an impenetrable disguise? In order to make it even harder for the enemy and to discourage irreverent guesswork propose Admiral Q. and Mr. P. (N B) We must mind our P’s and Q’s.”

Of course while they are having this humorous exchange they are also discussing very serious issues concerning French General Charles DeGaulle, the Chinese General Chiang Kai-Shek, Soviet leader Josef Stalin and other military matters.  However this exchange does reveal an important aspect of their very complicated relationship. They shared a sense of humor and an ability to share a light moment even in the darkest of times.

One final note, in a very personal letter Churchill wrote to his wife Clementine while he was in Casablanca, he tells her he had lunch with ‘Donald,’ using the Don Quixote code name given to FDR.

By Paul Sparrow, Director, FDR Library