The Atlantic Report on the World Today: Washington


Libya shattered a great American illusion about the war: that quantity of material will win it. Hitler never cherished this illusion. He thinks in terms of better rather than more material. We, on the contrary, are so addicted to the quantity theory that in talking about our war output we even lump our kinds of plane output together. Bombers, fighters, trainers they are always given as a global figure. We gave such a figure on the heels of the Churchill mission to Washington. The President, in releasing it, explained that the revelation would “hurt” rather than “help” the enemy. Let us hope so.

Global figures encourage the “overoptimism” which in June elicited an Administration rebuke. Take, for instance, the tank, which is in quantity production.

The British in Libya used an American model tank, the General Grant, M3. This was a compromise after our first type, General Lee, had been rejected both by our own using-arm and the British. It had a gun so close to the ground that it was difficult to shoot at all, let alone to shoot at a target.

The General Grant turned out to be deficient, too. It mounted a 75-millimeter gun, but only on one side. The result was that the gunner found himself restricted to an are of 16 degrees. That was bad enough. But, to make matters worse, the righthand tread on the tank (made, curiously and uniquely enough, of rubber composition) quickly got worn to tatters as the result of constant gun recoil. Moreover, there were never enough spares. When a British or a German tank goes into action, it must carry a certain quota of spares. General Grants had to be abandoned on the battlefield for the lack of them: mechanics had to use that process known in Egypt as “cannibalization,” whereby brand-new tanks are broken up to provide essential spares. Bear in mind that our antagonist, the German tank, mounted a gun which, being located in the top turret, could be swept around the complete circle of 360 degrees.

True enough, a new tank, variously called the General Lee or the General Sherman, or the M4, is now coming off the assembly lines. Some of the machines already are in Egypt. This tank embodies British (and German) combat experience. But the delay in getting to work on this model was precious time that we could iil afford. It has meant that we have had to realign tank production and assembly lines. How the new tank will stand up against the German tanks — how our other material will — remains to be seen. The tread is still composed of rubber composition, as contrasted with steel in the British and German tanks.


It is recognized at last that, if we are going to keep abreast of Hitler, we must forget our passion for quantity and beat him in quality. In short, we have got to keep a model ahead of Hitler, and this is the more imperative because his supply lines are shorter than ours. As Anne O’Hare McCormick has said, we may not have a better military brain, but our industrial brain is unrivaled. The problem is how to harness it.

This is a problem in Army organization. The crucial link is the Ordnance and Requirements Division. This is the division which originates the orders for material through the procurement divisions headed up by Mr. Nelson’s War Production Board. This division hitherto has not been notable either for consulting with the using-arm in the field or for taking counsel with the industrialists. It “tells” both the Army and industry.

If Libya has any meaning at all, two reforms are indicated: (1) Every army in the field should have a representative of the Ordnance and Requirements Division through whom can be transmitted the needs and ideas of the using-arm and the information on materials which that arm acquires from the enemy. (2) The industrialists through the War Production Board should get together with the strategists.

The first reform has got under way with the appointment, June 1, of a new Chief of Ordnance, Major-General Levin Campbell, Jr. He is a vast improvement: a man of energy and ideas, he already has men in Egypt, and has set up a personal advisory staff of well-known industrialists.

The tie-up between Mr. Nelson and the strategists is said to be on the way. But an announcement of a “realignment” of the WPB is so vaguely worded that we cannot count on it.

At El Agheila, at the border of Western Libya, whence he was forced last January, Rommel told Berlin what he wanted in the shape of better equipment, and he got it. We might not be able to duplicate this arrangement. But at least we must cut out all the red tape that prevents the men in the field from making known their wants to our war factories.


There is a good deal of talk today on what is vaguely called unity of command. A highly placed official, who six weeks ago was exuding optimism, asked disgustedly, “Who is running the war, anyway?”

Who is? Mr. Churchill runs the war in Britain, President Roosevelt in America. The two in consultation make the highest strategy board. It is often said that, because of their political preoccupations, this supreme task should be relegated either to one man or to a group of general officers.

The suggestion will not get very far. Mr. Churchill, in the House of Commons debate, flatly refused to lay down his war job as Minister of Defense. And it is inconceivable that the President would or could remit his constitutional function as Commander-in-Chief.

Thus the setup will remain as it is. In existence already is a joint staff in both countries, composed of the heads of the fighting services. Sitting in Washington, too, is a Combined Staffs Committee, which functions under both Roosevelt and Churchill. Mr. Churchill, incidentally, is always in Washington by proxy, his representative being Marshal Sir John Dill.

What is required, and what will come, is unity of command in the field when a second front is opened up in Europe. There will be no long wait, as in the last war, when Foch eventually became Allied generalissimo. Who will it be? Certainly, in view of successive British blunders in generalship, not a Briton. There is no American in sight, and that includes MacArthur, who has had the necessary experience. In Washington most of the money is on the Canadian McNaughton. But will the generalissimo be armed with full responsibility? This is as important as that our men shall be armed with the best weapons.

The generals are afraid of political interference or, as they put it, of “strategy on the top plane.” Waved had his rows with Churchill over the political decision to denude the Libyan garrison of divisions for Greece. Tobruk in spite of what Churchill said — also looks like the result of a conflict between the man on the spot and the man at home. We can only hope for Roosevelt-Churchill forbearance in the crucial days ahead.


“When bad men combine,” said Burke, “the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.” Libya introduced a strain on that smooth association so requisite to victory. Ideally we should exercise the same discrimination toward the British as we do toward ourselves. If we make mistakes, we don’t blame the entire nation; we pick out the responsible party.

In this respect Washington is not giving the country a lead. You hear the British panned everywhere in Washington. And they are disturbed about it. One Briton said bitterly, “We are being treated as the Germans treat the Italians.”

An impediment to sympathetic relations, doubtless, has been British representation in Washington. It was easy for stay-at-home Americans to appreciate the Cairo mentality and the Singapore mentality in the light of choice examples in Washington. It blinded them to the quality of the plain man in Britain. In point of fact, the caliber of representation of late months at the British Embassy and in the British missions has improved. The trouble is that, in the field, the British have too often been content with what Carlyle called “wooden poles” as leaders.

Yet the tank situation should modify even the criticism of British leadership. The British sent their own tanks-better tanks than oursto Russia. They had to accept General Grants because they were then getting aid under LendLease. In other words, they were in the beggar’s seat. Sometimes they discreetly urged the scientific and military superiority of a tank with a gun which could turn the full 360 degrees of the circle. We did not listen to them, in spite of their combat experience. Our ordnance authorities told the British that the General Grant had behaved well under the test. What was the test? The Southwestern deserts, where the subsoil is soft earth and clay; whereas the Libyan desert is merely the cover for rock, flint, or limestone, sometimes all three. So the British pocketed their pride and took what they could get.

The British were particularly incensed because of the release of the report, on the heels of the Libyan debacle, that our aircraft carrier Wasp had relieved Malta. That took place three months before. But the Navy Department got credit for seeming to bail out the British, though it will not release the data on shipping aid that the British are giving to America, because, forsooth, the account might be damaging to Navy prestige.

That aid has been substantial. British corvettes and trawlers are on active service off our Eastern seaboard in helping us fight the U-boats. They have returned bombers for the same purpose. They have likewise sent over destroyers. On the Pacific Coast the balloon barrages came from Britain, complete with technicians; though, ironically, the Associated Press reported that they were much superior to the British! Among the ideas and patents and devices which have been leaselent to America is the famous British radio location instrument, the instrument that beat off the German night bomber.

And don’t let us forget that in 1941. when most of us cherished the illusion that we were equipping the world, the British were not only outproducing us but were contributing greatly to the production of the United States. One could give many items. I will just quote from James B. Reston’s Prelude to Victory: “How many people in this country know today, for example, that just as we rushed guns to Britain at the time of the collapse of France, the British rushed anti-aircraft guns to Panama to help in the defense of the Canal right after the disaster at Pearl Harbor?”


The mood of the Capital has changed completely as the result of the Libyan fiasco. This administered a shock second only to Pearl Harbor. The general grimness is intensified by the domestic spectacle. Congress still is seemingly unable to put the general interest above its particular interests, except in such minor matters as donating its (useless) cuspidor pads to the rubber-scrap collector. It is even fearful of legislating any new taxes before election. Inflation will overwhelm the currency unless Price Administrator Henderson’s price control “framework” is supported by a real effort to siphon off the rapidly increasing surplus in purchasing power. Yet the lesson of Libya has been salutary in turning attention to the need for a fundamental change in Army organization.