What Are the Chances?
IT is opportune to compare the German and British positions at the end of the first half of what may prove the crucial year of the war. Hitler’s sudden attack upon Russia has temporarily obscured his recent strong bid for the Eastern Mediterranean, but the two campaigns have a common origin — namely, the inability of the German High Command to win a quick victory over Great Britain either by invasion or by cutting the overseas communications of the British Isles. The prospect of a long war compelled Germany to turn southeastward and then eastward in an effort to replenish her supplies of lubricants, oil fuel, and breadstuffs. If Germany could have invaded or starved the United Kingdom to the point where the British military effort was vitally impaired, it would not have been necessary for the German High Command to reduce its attacks on British supplies in order to increase its own.
The past performances of the Nazi and Red armies indicate that Stalin’s hordes will be no match in actual fighting for the well-trained, thoroughly coordinated, and skillfully led German machine. The most effective Russian defense against a German attack would be the ‘scorched earth’ system followed by Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek. Tsar Alexander had the courage to give the order to devastate Holy Russia; Chiang Kai-shek has inspired the inhabitants of Free China to undergo indescribable hardships for their ideals; can Stalin inspire his followers to make equal sacrifices? If the Russians follow the Chinese methods, they can stall the Nazi military machine; if they follow the Polish system of tactics against the improved blitzkrieg, their armies will probably be cut to pieces and their coveted provinces occupied before the dazed inhabitants can be evacuated, their reserve stores destroyed, or their wheat fields and oil wells sabotaged.
The prestige of the Nazi Army is justly high; its striking power is terrific; its High Command has integrated its air and ground forces, has coordinated its mechanized divisions, its combat engineers, its motorized infantry, and its Stuka divers into one demoniacal instrument of destruction which its leaders, usually well informed of their enemy’s strength and intentions, are able to direct against the weakest point of the hostile position. But the German leaders may be overconfident. Hitler’s motorized columns are undertaking to do within thirty to ninety days a task that took Hindenburg and Ludendorff two and a half years.
The task of the Nazis will not be complete when they have destroyed the Red Army, the Black Sea fleet, and occupied the Ukraine and the Caucasus; they will then have to reorganize the Ukraine and Baku to obtain the coveted supplies of wheat and oil. Agriculture in the Ukraine is completely mechanized; sowing, reaping, and distribution of grain are done by tractor power which is supplied with Baku oil. After harvesting, all the motor transport of Western Russia is assembled to distribute the grain; any delays or early rains which bog the roads reduce the rations of certain Russian provinces. The Germans cannot deliver all the Russian wheat and all the Russian oil to Germany; a large portion of the oil must be consumed in harvesting and transporting the grain.
To obtain its foodstuffs Germany must gain possession of the grain fields in time to harvest the present crop, which is now green and difficult to burn. Russian chemists know how to sterilize the Russian wheat fields, if the Soviet authorities have the resolution to give the order to evacuate the people and destroy their grain. Similarly the pipe lines, derricks, machinery, pumps, and refineries of the Baku wells can be destroyed and deliveries of oil delayed from three to six months. Eventually other shafts could be sunk and the fields returned to production, unless the Soviets have the hardihood to admit salt water to the wells, which might permanently destroy them.
The possibility exists that Stalin’s government may suddenly collapse and a leaderless people yield their oil, grain, and transportation system to the invaders — which would permit the Germans to transfer enough planes to the Western Front to resume the battle for Britain and reopen the campaign for the Mediterranean. Again an inspired Russian nation might use the ‘scorched earth’ system of defense, in which case the German High Command would be compelled to seek oil in Mosul. Either of these extreme possibilities would cut short the temporary respite given the British forces by the Russian invasion. But the probabilities favor a development between the two extremes. The German Army will probably overcome the Russian resistance, but not as completely or as rapidly as its leaders hope; the Russians will dest roy much of their store of grain and oil, and partially sabotage the oil wells.
The British pipe line to Haifa is six hundred miles long and requires eight pumping stations; the French, considerably shorter, needs only seven to relay its oil to tidewater. If any pumping station is disabled, it can be ‘ by-passed ‘ and the remaining pumps can deliver 60 per cent of normal capacity while repairs are effected. Each line can deliver fortyfour thousand barrels per day at its terminal. The daily capacity of the wells is in excess of eighty-eight thousand barrels. It would be practically impossible to destroy this rich oil field entirely; new shafts could be sunk in the large oil pools known to exist in the vicinity, and even if producing wells were thoroughly sabotaged they could be returned to production within three to six months. If the pipe lines are interrupted, they can be relaid within a day if the pipes are available, and it is customary to keep a reserve supply distributed at convenient points along the route. Pumping stations can be repaired or new pumps installed if the machinery is at hand.
If the German invasion proceeds as planned by the German High Command, General Wavell’s successor, General Auchinleck, will have been granted at least a month to complete his campaign for Syria and strengthen his position along the Egyptian-Libyan frontier. If then the full tide turns against him and he is opposed by superior Axis forces, the British could either fall back into Irak, destroying the pipe lines and finally the oil wells of Mosul, or retreat through Palestine, fighting delaying actions in defense of the Suez Canal — or divide their forces and do both. British operations in Libya and Syria have lacked both the speed and the momentum of the German Panzer Divisions; this is due to the small number of British armored divisions in the Near East — a deficiency which cannot be remedied in the near future as sufficient ships are not available.
General Auchinleck will probably follow the general pattern of the British campaign against the Italians, utilizing his naval superiority, his shorter communications, and his central position in an effort to compensate for his numerical inferiority in troops and planes. Wavell regarded the German thrust from Libya as the most immediate danger to Alexandria, and reenforced the EgyptianLibyan frontier before attempting the invasion of Syria. The British will be handicapped by their inferior land and air forces, but in the opening phase of the campaign the British naval forces can be of much assistance. The distance from Crete to Bardia in Libya is about two hundred and fifty land miles, twice the distance from Crete to the German air bases in southern Greece. British planes which were ineffective at Crete can intervene in Cyprus. Only by occupying air fields in northern Syria can German Stukas be brought as close as the British to the scene of action.
The risks involved in these campaigns for European Russia and the Mediterranean are as great as the stakes. The opposing forces are giving and taking hard blows; the Germans and Italians are accepting heavy air and sea losses, the British sustaining serious naval casualties, the Russians air and land losses; the opposing motorized divisions are being expended freely, and merchant ships are being sunk by both sides. Hitler has gone to war with a former ally; Churchill’s policy may bring Vichy into the war against Britain. It is easy to forget that in a world war European Russia and the entire Mediterranean basin together only constitute a minor theatre, important but not vital to either Germany or Great Britain. If Germany, in her eagerness to dominate the Ukraine, Baku, and the Mediterranean basin, sacrifices her air superiority or permits British aviation to draw level with the Luftwaffe in the battle of the Atlantic; if Great Britain, in her determination to protect her position in the Middle East, jeopardizes her naval supremacy — either will have purchased an important local success too dearly.
Germany can overcome Great Britain quickest by cutting off supplies to the United Kingdom; Great Britain can defeat Germany soonest by maintaining an oceanic blockade and attacking Germany by air. The Committee of Imperial Defense in London and Hitler’s remodeled Great General Staff in Berlin are aware of these facts; and the hardheaded directors of Europe’s two most powerful lighting machines are not likely to forget that territorial and economic gains in Russia, the Near East, and North Africa will not compensate for a defeat in either homeland.
During the First World War the German High Command usually concentrated its effort on the Western theatre, the British and French squandered forces in Gallipoli, Salonika, Palestine, and Mesopotamia. Today Hitler is assuming the offensive in Russia and the Near East, while Churchill told his parliamentary critics that the battle for the Atlantic must have priority in men, guns, ships, and planes.
Whether Hitler will follow up the campaigns in the Eastern Mediterranean after the invasion of Russia is, of course, unknown. He realizes that the surest way to defeat Great Britain is to cut the sea communications of the United Kingdom. It may be that the Luftwaffe could not accept the losses involved in the direct attack on the United Kingdom, and Hitler turned southeastward in search of an easier objective. It is more likely that the extremity of Italy under the combined Graeco-British attacks compelled him against his wishes to go to Mussolini’s rescue, and the defiance of Yugoslavia involved him further than he intended and reduced the supplies available in the Near East. In 1915 von Falkenhayn reluctantly abandoned the offensive he had planned against the Allied position in France because he had to divert his reserve divisions to the eastern front to save Austria from being crushed by Russia. Whatever motive actuated Hitler, the more air and land forces he employs in Russia and the Middle East, the fewer there will be to launch against the United Kingdom.
If the British Government continues to subordinate all other theatres of war to the battle of the British Isles, it will reduce to a minimum the chances of a German victory by blockade or invasion of the United Kingdom. The British can increase their chances of victory and to some extent counter the Axis blows in Russia — if, as additional bombing planes become available, they are hurled against the transportation systems, the shipbuilding facilities, and the industrial plants in Germany, and the invasion ports of occupied Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, and France.
The blitzkrieg and air war have convincingly shown the German ability to inflict enormous suffering upon other nationals; neither the German army nor the German people has been required to show its capacity to endure punishment. The German High Command knew how to win battles in the First World War but abandoned their effort to win the war when their troops were everywhere on enemy soil; the German Home Front collapsed before an enemy trooper had crossed the German frontier. Neither the national stamina of the German people nor the psychology of the German High Command has greatly changed in twenty-three years. In 1918 German authorities, with the approval of the people, surrendered the second largest fleet in the world without a battle, delivered up their merchant marine, and sacrificed German provinces to avoid invasion. History supports the view that the British can defeat the Nazis provided they maintain the oceanic blockade and redouble the air bombardments of German industrial cities.
Many European countries that cannot at present resist the domination of the Reich would rejoice at German reverses. The surest method of arousing opposition to Hitler in the occupied and threatened countries of Europe is to convince their leaders of eventual British victory. If the United Kingdom increases its resistance to German attacks by sea and air and can simultaneously strike harder blows at Germany, a conviction of eventual British victory will spread in Europe. With increasing aid arriving from the United States, the United Kingdom should be able to save itself by its own exertions if it concentrates all its strength on securing the British Isles first. Hitler’s invasion of Russia has provided its great opportunity. In time, British forces will be available to reconquer lost territory and rescue Europe from the Nazis. This program will not delay by a single day the rehabilitation of prostrate European nations. British counterattacks on German air and naval forces in the North Sea and North Atlantic and air attacks on military objectives in Germany will keep the German forces fully occupied, constitute a real menace to the Reich itself, and give the occupied nations a chance to raise themselves by their own efforts.
If this strategic concept is correct, the Committee of Imperial Defense will redouble the bombing attacks on Germany, make sure that the line of communications between the United Kingdom and the United States is kept open, that shipping losses are reduced, that defense against air attacks on the United Kingdom is provided, and then distribute the remaining forces available to protect the overseas communications of the Empire, in which the security of the Malay Straits and Persian Gulf would be even more essential than that of the Suez Canal and Eastern Mediterranean.
The Commander in Chief at Cairo could then dispose the land, sea, and air forces made available for the defense of the Eastern Mediterranean to oppose in the best way possible whatever forces Hitler sends against him. Even in the tactical disposition of his forces the Commander in Chief in the Mediterranean will remember that this area is valuable but not vital, that even for the Suez Canal and Alexandria he cannot sacrifice the Mediterranean Naval Squadron or the Mid-East Air Force or his army. He must employ Fabian tactics — if necessary, sell Hitler position after position in Syria, Palestine, and Egypt, at the highest cost in men, material, and time. In this respect his position is similar to that of the Red Army, If General Auchinleck and Admiral Cunningham can relieve the German pressure on the United Kingdom by absorbing the force of Hitler’s blows in the Near East for six months, they will do the Empire a great service, even if they are forced into the Red Sea; if they manage to hold Alexandria and Suez without unsupportable loss in planes and ships, they will have gone far to securing eventual British victory. If they inflict substantial losses on Hitler’s Luftwaffe and Panzer Divisions, they will have appreciably shortened the duration of the war.
The United States would be affected more by German successes in the Western Mediterranean than in the Eastern, and more by political repercussions of the two campaigns than by the territorial changes in Russia or the Near East. If the British invasion of Syria increases Vichy’s collaboration with Hitler, the United States in its own defense may be obliged to occupy Martinique and other French possessions in the West Indies and the Caribbean. If the French resist American occupation, this immediate possibility would require a considerable naval and military effort. Martinique is easily defended, and the guns of the French men-of-war have probably been mounted ashore. But it could be taken either by a landing operation or by a siege, and comparatively quickly.
If Hitler occupies North Africa, prudence would require American occupation of the Cape Verde and Azores Islands to meet the possibility of a German threat to South America via Dakar. Occupation of these two groups of islands by American forces would be comparatively easy; their retention in case of a German air attack would require adequate air fields, anti-aircraft defenses, and a modern, well-equipped, and well-supplied garrison of approximately fifteen thousand troops for each group of islands. The Navy and Maritime Commission could supply the transports, the Marine Corps could provide a trained covering force to seize the first landing, the Army could add the necessary divisions to furnish the main body of the landing forces, the Atlantic Fleet could escort the expedition and support the landing.
The fundamental policy of the United States has not been changed by Germany’s invasion of Russia; it must continue to safeguard its own interests and defend the Western Hemisphere. In furtherance of these purposes it must give all possible aid to Great Britain, China, and other countries that are resisting the efforts of the Axis Powers. The German invasion has postponed the time when Hitler can debouch on the Atlantic; it has reduced the supplies Russia can give China, increasing the immediate need for more American supplies; it has diminished temporarily the German air strength in Western Europe, giving the Royal Air Force a limited opportunity to strike Germany under favorable conditions, greatly increasing the value of any American assistance given the United Kingdom now.
In the Far East, Japan has been given a favorable opportunity to defeat China and may take advantage of it to win the war, which would give her control of Chinese resources and permit a regrouping of Japanese armies preparatory to invading the Netherlands East Indies or Siberia. For the moment the Red Army in Siberia is strong enough to resist Japanese attacks, but Russian influence in the Far East is certain to decrease in the near future and Japan’s will correspondingly increase. This makes it imperative for the United States to support China and strengthen its own position now before Japan is relieved from all Russian restraint.
The invasion of Russia has presented the United States with opportunities and necessities. Any aid given to Great Britain now is doubly valuable. Aid must be given China in order to delay and possibly prevent Japanese moves to the southward. And the United States has a last opportunity to strengthen its position in Guam and Luzon before Japan is relieved of a Russian menace. There are many desirable places to employ our limited military resources. Only the American Government has the necessary information to decide where the available resources can be best employed. A solution suggests itself.
The Hawaiian Islands are overprotected, Luzon and Guam underprotected; the entire Japanese fleet and air force could not seriously threaten Oahu. Enough of the highly trained garrison of Oahu, with its modern equipment and anti-aircraft batteries, could be transferred to Guam and Luzon to secure these more exposed islands, without undue risk to us and without reducing the aid to China and Great Britain. The Pacific Fleet could escort the transports and store ships, for its battle strength will not be needed in the Atlantic for several months. The garrison at Oahu could be brought up to complement with army formations and equipment brought from the West Coast.
In any efforts the United States makes it can be assumed that Great Britain, China, Holland, Free France, and other countries still resisting Hitler will assist. Fortunately the overseas bases of Great Britain, Holland, Free France, and the United States fit neatly together in the Atlantic and Pacific. Great Britain alone controls the entire land perimeter of the Indian Ocean from South Africa, in a vast semicircle that includes Coastal Arabia, India, Burma, the Federated Malay States, and terminates in Australasia.
The British and American bases in the Atlantic control that ocean except in an area roughly defined by the Azores, the Cape Verde Islands, Dakar, and the Canaries. At the junction of the Indian Ocean and the Western Pacific in the Strait of Malacca and the Strait of Sunda, the Japanese are a potential menace. If those three groups of islands in the Eastern Atlantic and the line Guam-Manila-Singapore are held by Great Britain and the United States, the Axis Powers may bluster, but they can never hurt the United States. Alaska, our frontier nearest Siberia, is being steadily strengthened.
These positions can be held by comparatively small overseas garrisons if they have modern equipment and weapons, are provided with suitable antiaircraft artillery, and are supported by their own aviation, as long as the oceanic routes connecting them with the United States are controlled by superior naval power. This form of protection will keep possible enemies at the greatest distance from continental America, and continue as nearly as is feasible our traditional policy of entrusting our national safety to a navy second to none, a small but highly trained regular army capable of rapid expansion in wartime, and an air force capable of operating independently or with either branch of the service. Air strength and naval strength are both essential to American oceanic power, possessing which our great continental island will continue to be invulnerable to blockade or invasion.