(1) European Front

ON THE WORLD TODAY

This year the spectacular mobility characteristic of operations each previous spring in Europe has been absent. The nature of the war has changed.

Margins of surprise within which Adolf Hitler manipulated the German Wehrmacht brilliantly in the past were shriveling in Europe. But not in North Africa. There, by a tremendous feat of generalship, one of his greatest commanders, Marshal Erwin Rommel, retrieved the initiative through sudden attack, and transformed a furious battle which went against him at first into a major disaster for the British, whose army had failed to deliver a knockout when opportunity offered. Rommel proceeded to enlarge the advantage thus acquired by storming Tobruk. Egypt now lay before him, with only a reduced force blocking his route to Alexandria, Suez, and the East. The Moslem world muttered.

The reverse, and the possibilities it opened to the Germans along the lower Mediterranean, explained in part the abrupt reappearance of Mr. Winston Churchill at Washington. There was no doubt whatever that this Libyan setback would influence plans of the United Nations for the remainder of the year. It might compel drastic revision of strategy. It would certainly speed up attempts to recover the initiative.

Behind Hitler in Europe the threat of invasion from Britain grew steadily more serious. Beyond the Atlantic the enormous resources of the United States were being mobilized at a pace which outran programs and shattered all records. Nearly ten American divisions - spearhead of another AEF - had swarmed into Northern Ireland already. American bombers roared in steady procession over the North Atlantic to England. Six thousand tanks arrived to reinforce Russian resistance before May Day; and the flow continued. Squadrons of American combat planes appeared on Russian airfields. Plane output in the United Nations was now exceeding that of the whole Axis war plant; and the margin widened.

As the day of the single front waned, the Germans were compelled to divide their army to supplement garrisons in Western Europe. To Norway, the Low Countries, and coastal France moved nearly three-quarters of a million troops. This meant that about one-fifth of a German army already depleted of approximately two million of its finest men, through casualties in the ghastly Russian war, was now stationed in the West. One of the ablest generals in the Reich, Field Marshal von Rundstedt, went to set up new headquarters near the Spanish frontier. Was this, possibly, a precaution against any repetition by the United Nations of the precedents of Napoleon’s day?

Whether it was or not, it emphasized the change in the whole picture of the war in Europe. Germany was worried. No longer did the Nazis nurse dreams of swift and sudden triumph. A grim note echoed through the speeches of the hierarchy at Berlin as the ineffable Goebbels sounded the tocsin of fear through his propaganda machine to frighten more support out of a weary German public; and ponderous Hermann Goring admonished war workers and farmers to new extremes of sacrifice lest they share in a common ruin. The war had entered a new phase. It tended to become a struggle of attrition and wars of attrition are usually long. But maneuvering for the initiative continues, as the Roosevelt-Churchill conferences indicate.

It is too early to reckon the formidable striking force still available to Hitler, who is as well aware as his opponents that 1942 will weight the balances heavily for victory or defeat. Yet evidence accumulates that it may prove far more difficult for the Nazis to hold the initiative firmly this summer.

THE MAIN DRIVE

The military operations with which the Germans inaugurated their summer program emphasize this doubt. They struck at Kerch to clear and take a springboard from which to assail the Russian Caucasus on the flank, on their way to oil. Possessed of Kerch, it was and is their hope to open the major drive through the Southern Ukraine toward Rostoy.

The operation was only a partial success. Kerch fell to concentrated attack; but the fight consumed thrice the time-allowance set by Hitler. A strong counter-offensive let loose by the Russians at Kharkov next fractured the timetable even more seriously.

The limited results obtained by Hitler’s armies in Russia forced Rommel to gamble heavily with the initiative in Libya. His imperative purpose there was to thrust the lower arm of a vast pincer movement against the Near East. For the eventual pinch-off he needed to capture Tobruk — as a coastal supply port — and to smash or push back the British defending Egypt. Outmaneuvered, outgambled, the shattered VIII Army limped back to the Egyptian border, leaving prisoners and vast stores behind.

At Kharkov, Russia had held up this move in North Africa for a time, since Hitler did not dare turn Rommel loose until the situation clarified for the Nazis in the Ukraine. But neither the advent of the torrid African summer, nor this initial delay, frustrated Rommel once he moved. The timetable has not been fractured in Africa.

Further complications arose with the onset of mass air raids from England over the cities of the West. Despite the enormous increase in air power these signified, they did not inaugurate an offensive. They foreshadow rather a reaching for the initiative above Europe and point directly toward eventual invasion.

The mixed results of these efforts in Russia and North Africa may force Hitler to undertake his drive for oil along another path — the only other one left him: across the Aegean and Bosporus through or around Turkey. Would Turkey yield passively or fight? Evidently Hitler isn’t sure and his opponents don’t know. The Turks, who have been in the business of surviving for more than one hundred and fifty years, give no hint. They watch Egypt and wait.

THE BATTLE OF SUPPLY

Supply lines are the Achilles’ heel of modern mechanized warfare. They fix the trend of battle. The battle of supply lines raging throughout and along the approaches to Europe this spring is accordingly one of the crucial battles of the war; and in this the Axis enjoys preponderant advantage. On the Continent, where they ravage their victims

for food and press exploitation of every industrial facility, the Nazis operate on interior lines. The United Nations are compelled by geographical separation to pass their traffic over great distances. As a result, their position has deteriorated steadily even though their strength has grown.

Malta, astride the direct route from Italy to North Africa in the Mediterranean, has survived a hurricane of air assault this spring as the Axis has striven to clear the supply line to Rommel’s army. While nearly five thousand attacks have failed to knock out Malta, they have nevertheless succeeded in impairing its value. This the British admit. Reinforcement of Rommel’s army by nearly five divisions verifies the admission from the enemy’s side.

The Arctic approaches to Russia’s northern supply port at Murmansk provide another setting for this savage battle of communications. In the fogridden reaches of Barents Sea, German planes and warcraft are exacting a toll of shipping which ranges from six to a dozen cargo carriers per convoy. Losses in convoying warships have been important, - Britain admits one of her heavy cruisers went down, - but for the most part they have been limited to destroyers. In this arena the Red Navy and Air Force are countering with destructive blows at transport of men and provisions to the German front in the extreme north.

Most spectacular of all Axis attacks on supply lines are the sea raids which the German and Italian submarines have been conducting along approaches to the American hemisphere from the Gulf of Mexico to the estuary of the St. Lawrence. The rate of the United Nations shipping losses far exceeds the rate of replacement building. As spring passed, three sinkings a day became common, while new launchings did not average quite two ships a day. War equipment has begun to back up at American ports. The Army has found it necessary to speed construction of eleven new storage depots.

Throughout this turmoil, the United Nations have continued to prove their ability to move troops and war equipment under full naval escort over the Atlantic, without loss of a single ship or a single man. Evidently the sea pirates have been enjoying special conditions which will shortly disappear.

THE FRENCH FLEET

American policy toward Vichy possessed a certain devious logic while Marshal Henri Pétain held the controls of government in unoccupied France. Whatever his frailties, Marshal Pétain retains a sense of personal honor. Pierre Laval retains only a political record. His advent to power brought with it a policy dedicated to belief that personal survival for himself requires a victory for Hitler. Also, it wiped out the logic of the American policy.

Accordingly the question of the French fleet, or at least that part of it within reach of Pierre Laval’s power, is being settled in a manner in keeping with those quiet procedures at which Pierre Laval is so famously adept. German seamen have advanced upon Toulon, to “learn the ropes.”

American policy toward Vichy likewise becomes ghostlike and even more vague. It, too, will pres6

ently tatter away into reminiscence. For unless signs are misleading, Adolf Hitler is going to need more sea power this summer than his Italian overseer can furnish him in the Mediterranean.

THE ARMY OF GHOSTS

Violence begets violence. Wherever the rhythm is set up, it elicits an inexorable counter-rhythm in kind. This is true in peace or war. It is a law of human dynamics. Also, it is the basic explanation of the progress of the German terror in Europe, and of the counter-terror generated by it.

Last winter acts of violent sabotage were relatively few. Now they occur daily throughout Europe. Unrest has penetrated into Germany itself. One of the highly significant facts on the social chart of afflicted Europe today is that executions within the Third Reich for sabotage and conspiracy have risen to about ten a day.

In such an atmosphere the assassination of persons of higher and higher rank in the hated regime becomes understandable. So does the tone of Hitler’s speeches. So do the redoubled cruelties of the representatives of the Nazi Party, as they strive desperately to master forces accumulating against them in the public mind. By the very terror they invoke, the danger they face is augmented against them. The rhythm quickens.

WHAT IT ADDS UP TO

The position of the Axis in Europe remains formidable; but the status of strength behind it is deteriorating.

The position of the United Nations continues to deteriorate; but the rate has slowed down as their status of strength improves.

Hitler’s present power represents his maximum unless and until he can conquer the East, obtain oil, and reopen mobile warfare.

The strength of the United Nations represents but the beginning of a march to greater strength and it is rapidly equalizing with that of the enemy. Invasion will proclaim the closing of the gap.