ON THE WORLD TODAY
Mustering for invasion of Western Europe as the third summer waned, the United Nations faced a problem which may well decide the war.
Adolf Hitler’s armies, 1500 miles away, were battering toward the Volga and into the Caucasus in a supremely threatening effort to demolish their Russian opponent before winter and seize his oil supply. The German High Command, naturally anxious about Europe, was contriving new stratagems against the Near East to offset the weakening of the West as division after division was summoned from France. Battle swirled again in the Egyptian desert. Gandhi challenged London on the issue of immediate independence. In the Pacific and in Latin America, portents appeared of the new coördination of Axis strategy.
Would the United Nations, in the most critical period since Dunkirk, succeed in coördinating their own strength with the revolutionary vengeance of Hitler’s victims in Western Europe? Here, marshaled from Norway to the coasts of North Africa, was a fifth column raring to go. This might be an ally worth 50 divisions.
Germany’s bungling psychology in handling the vanquished did not alone explain the growth of this menace to Hitler. Once more the distant approach of winter was heralded by the specter of famine. Hitler’s effort to eliminate Russia had compelled him to drain Europe of troops and manpower for war industries. Despite the millions of war prisoners and numerous drafts from German satrapies, there was a dearth of agricultural labor in the Third Reich.
Greece had been stripped of farm workers. Norway, France, and Belgium watched food rations shrink week by week. In Holland 100,000 cattle were slaughtered in midsummer to augment military food supplies and clear pasturage for production of vegetable oils for the Wehrmacht. More than one-third of the herds of the Netherlands had already been taken. Thousands of peasants had abandoned their farms in Yugoslavia and fled to the mountains to escape extermination.
The theory of the Germans — that hunger could be managed so as to render subject peoples incapable of revolt — was being fiercely challenged in that country which was the worst off in Europe when the Nazis engulfed it: the Serbs were waging a persistent and murderous guerrilla war on the Axis. To coördinate this counter-revolutionary force against Hitler was a necessity for the United Nations. Here, without banners, was a mighty army.
Unfortunately Britain and the United States disagreed on how to employ this force. President Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms,” Vice-President Wallace’s exposition of this “people’s war,” clarifications by Sumner Welles and Secretary of State Hull, had shaped a policy. Faint response came from London, though Anthony Eden welcomed the ideas, and the leftist New Statesman joined with the liberal London Economist in urging their adoption.
In Britain the dominant Conservative Party still suffered from the Chamberlain reaction. But currents of revolt sweeping Europe today stem from the left! Better avoid them than risk chaos. So argued prominent members of the notorious “1922 Committee,”which dominated Conservative policy. The type of mentality that prevailed during the Spanish rehearsal for Armageddon still persisted.
But not without challenge. Realists in London — Laborite, Liberal, and Conservative — drove ahead with determination. The Chief of the French underground formations was summoned late in July for conference. The proponents of collaboration saw that Czech, Polish, Dutch, Norse, French, Greek, and Yugoslav governments in exile were ready to aid in directing this force toward goals cherished by free men. They insisted that counter-revolution which seeks the four freedoms in a world more equitably organized must be recognized and guided. To deny it — there lay peril of defeat!
Effective collaboration depends on the full use of the underground military cadres and the guerrilla groups. These need supplies and centralized direction. They must smash rail lines, bridges, canal locks, supply dumps, highways, radio and telegraph stations, factories and other facilities upon which the Germans depend.
Half a dozen tightly organized military groups have grown spontaneously in France, Norway, Holland, and the Balkans. One of the most famous in Belgium is the “White Legion,”which has waged relentless war all summer from the shadows against the Nazis. The Czechs have parallel groups formed around nuclei of ex-army men, scientists, teachers, and public officials.
THE SECRET PRESS
The underground press plays a vital role in unifying these groups. Approximately 150 underground newspapers have appeared in Poland so far, the number fluctuating as the Gestapo succeeds or fails in running down the editors for execution. Poland has now about 70. Those in France, while fewer, have larger circulations. Czechoslovakia is well covered.
These provide invaluable means of communication for the invading forces with collaborators behind the German lines. The secret formations have been responsible for sabotage during the summer which has cost Germany nearly 15 per cent of her war supplies. Under adequate direction they could harass and divide the German defense effort far more seriously.
The guerrilla bands, by contrast, are openly in arms. These fight best in regions where the terrain affords areas of refuge, in Poland, Greece, Serbia. Polish guerrillas are a scourge to Germany because the forests and mountains afford avenues for attack and swift evasion. From the Rhodope Mountains to the Peloponnesus, the feats of the 30,000 Greek guerrillas and their Australian and British associates have become a legend.
Most dangerous of all armed partisans in Europe today are the famous Chetniks of Yugoslavia, whose leader, General Draja Mihailovich, has become the hero of the Balkans through the exploits of his twelve battalions. The Chetniks derive historically from the armed Serbian bands which rose against the Turk in the seventeenth century.
Mihailovich’s army, estimated at nearly 200,000 men, is tough, hard, and ruthless. Ranging from the Eastern Balkans to the shores of the Adriatic, the Chetniks have decimated Italian garrisons, stormed Axis-held towns, and compelled the immobilization of ten divisions of Axis troops in Southern Europe. Their strategic position along the through rail lines to the South and East is emphasized every week by raids and wrecks. As auxiliaries to invasion, they should prove invaluable.
Hitler’s preparations against attack in Western Europe are based on these principles: Compel your enemy to disperse his strength. Concentrate your own. Attack!
This explained the concentration of Axis forces in Greece and Bulgaria — a move designed to pose new threats to the Middle East by way of turkey and the Aegean. German armies were pounding from the north into the Caucasus. Rommel was striving to resume his thrust from the south by way of Suez. A blow at the center would jeopardize Iraq, Syria, Persia, and India. It might renew in London the anxious demands heard when Rommel’s lunge into Egypt in June endangered the Middle East: no second front in Europe until Egypt was secure.
To divert American military power from Europe, the Axis strategy depended equally upon the familiar coördination of Axis policies. So Japan dug in on the Aleutians to threaten Alaska, mobilized on the Manchurian border to threaten Siberia, and resumed her threats to Australia from Southeast Asia. Whichever course decision took, the geopolitical strategists at Berlin hoped it would divert American interest from Europe together with American military effort. Should their efforts fail, there remained another active possibility: civil war in Latin America.
Although Germany’s forces had been reduced sharply in the West, Field Marshal Karl Rudolf von Rundstedt, commander-in-chief in the prospective invasion area, had probably 60 divisions available, counting garrison troops, as September approached. This was not the 110 divisions claimed by the inexhaustible Herr Goebbels, who was emitting a flood of contradictory statements on the invasion question. Yet it was a substantial army. These forces occupied positions which the Nazis had months to fortify.
GERMANY’S MAGINOT LINE
With Professor Albert Speer, Chief Engineer of the Wehrmacht, von Rundstedt had spent all summer supervising the multiplication of defense positions. From the North Cape to Narvik, from Narvik to the Pyrenees, every port of entry had been converted into a fortress. Opposite the British Isles, a system of defense in depth consisting of fortified lines in echelon nine miles apart had been built through the Low Countries and Northern France. Guns taken from the eastern defenses of Belgium and from the Maginot Line augmented German weapons in this system.
In evacuated areas farmhouses were transformed into blockhouses. Populations retained for forced labor were placed under rigorous police surveillance which barred all visitors save in the presence of a Gestapo agent. Natives were forbidden to visit inland. Airfields which might be seized by invaders were put to the plow: von Rundstedt depended upon fields further inland and hidden air bases with camouflaged runways. Across the countryside prisoners of war laid down a network of connecting roads to provide maximum facilities for reinforcement and supplies, should railways, canals, and rivers be blocked.
Paralleling these preparations of a purely military nature the Germans redoubled efforts to deal with the subject populations. Reprisal and hostage murders are a convenient method of disposing of all persons capable of leading rebellion. In the group of 96 Dutch executed in May were one colonel, four lieutenant colonels, one major, eight captains, six lieutenants, and seven sergeants. In the roundup made by the Gestapo in midsummer, almost half of the 1000 men condemned were teachers, former public officials, or persons who had belonged to the Army of the Netherlands before the German colossus drove in over the eastern frontiers.
Forced migrations cleared disaffected areas of large numbers of young men — on the pretext that their labors were needed elsewhere. As the exodus began in mid-July, the German military inaugurated elaborate parades and demonstrations of armed might in Paris and other cities along the coastal area. These were designed to impress upon the population the futility of any hope for rescue, and upon the accumulating forces of invasion across the Channel new fears of Teutonic prowess in arms.
WHAT TO WATCH
The air assaults upon Germany’s communications in the West, which will intensify prior to any invasion.
Growth of guerrilla warfare, particularly in the Southwestern Balkans, where Mihailovich is punishing Italy severely.
The synchronization of Hitler’s strategic moves against invasion, especially in the Near East.