European Front


WHEN the history books are written, 1942 may be marked as the year in which Nazi Germany lost her bid for world dominance.

Compare the German armies today with what they were a year ago. Then, the forces of the Axis had behind them a record of swift victories, capped by a tremendous advance in the mightiest invasion ever undertaken. Now, not only are they retreating after failing to attain set objectives, but they have been rolled back from the approaches to the Volga, the Caspian, the oil pools of the Caucasus, and Moscow, to the conquest of which Hitler dedicated thousands of lives, mountains of material, and the ruthlessly harnessed energies of Europe.

A year ago, none of Hitler’s other adversaries was ready to exploit on another front in Europe the difficulties created for him by Russia’s winter offensive. Now, Marshal Timoshenko’s brilliant operations over the Don and west of Moscow have been synchronized with attacks along the whole North African outworks to Hitler’s European citadel. Simultaneously, the badly carpentered makeshift of Vichy France has been blown up by pressures let loose in the invasion of Africa.

Last winter, the flower of the German army still lived; the quality of the Wehrmacht was at its peak; the High Command still had its notable directorate of field officers and tacticians; the prestige of Der Führer was undimmed. Today, Hitler’s war machine, for all its lingering might, has been transformed in large part into a patchwork: its gaps filled by unwilling levies drawn from his satrapies; its morale shaken by months of frustration and casualties; many of its famous officers dead, captured, or disgraced; its director on the defensive at the battlefronts and at home.

The pinch of shortage

Neither the power of Russia’s counter-offensives, nor the shrewd timing which sends them crashing into the German lines from Stalingrad to the environs of Leningrad a thousand miles to the north, explains the costly reverses which Germany has sustained in this winter war.

Germany’s losses in dead exceed any she has suffered in a correspondingly brief span of time since the war began. Prisoners taken by the Red Army outnumber those captured in any previous operations, and — significantly — a larger proportion of them are German. Part of the explanation lies in the fact that the captives are mostly clad in thin tunics or nondescript odds and ends of clothing plundered from the countryside.

Of great interest is the poor showing of the German Luftwaffe in the critical Russian struggle. The supposition that Hitler has been keeping his air forces for the most part in Russia — a view advanced to explain the shortage of air power which contributed so heavily to Rommel’s disaster in Egypt — is breaking down as the Russian offensives lunge onward. Whatever the strength of the German air concentration in Russia, Hitler is plainly not employing it in his customary fashion.

Growing difficulties may explain this mystery of the air force. Diminishing supplies of gasoline and lubricating oil, the necessity for conserving enough fuel to defend the fortress from invasion, the disruption of German assembly lines by RAF bombings, the unavoidable dispersion of air fleets at posts scattered around a defense perimeter of approximately 9000 miles, and, finally, the new demands for concentration of air power in Africa to block the threat to his citadel from over the Mediterranean — all these are factors in the equation of the Luftwaffe mystery.

Hitler has diverted both planes and whole divisions from the Russian front. Moscow estimates that as many as 350,000 men have moved to positions in the Balkans and Italy, as a supplement to those already posted in these regions. From this strengthened reservoir of manpower, picked troops are being fed steadily by air and transport to Africa. Meanwhile, thousands of civilians in Greece, Croatia, and Italy are being conscripted to work on fortifications. The difficulties of the Axis are difficulties mainly of time. They are not insurmountable, however, provided the great assault can be delayed long enough.

Plans and counter-plans

The strategy of the United Nations in Europe has been clarified since the invasion of French Africa. Hitler, who has found his energies severely taxed by a single major opponent in the East since June, 1941, may expect to face a three-sided drive when the showdown comes. Russia will continue to bear the brunt of the land war on the Continent until her partners are ready. She will then open her greatest offensive from the East, for which myriad reserves are preparing behind the Urals. The second blow — if Premier Churchill’s promise is fulfilled will fall upon Hitler’s citadel from over the Channel or the North Sea. The third military sledge hammer will hit the Mediterranean bastions of Europe from the South.

What are Hitler’s alternatives for a counterstroke? The submergence of Vichy France and the destruction of the naval squadron at Toulon make an invasion of Spain alluring to the Germans. That is why General Francisco Franco has been even more uneasy than the Turks since war spread to French Africa. A neutral Spain had its value to Hitler before that development. Neutral Spain now protects the entire left flank of General Eisenhower’s expedition, along the supply route through Gibraltar.

Full German occupation of Spain would offer Hitler a chance to cut that supply line by manning coastal batteries his own engineers installed on the Spanish shore of the Straits during the Spanish Civil War. It would enable him to isolate Gibraltar, to flank Britain’s sea route down the coast of Europe, to fight in a theater of his own choosing, or to cross to Spanish Morocco and threaten the rear and communications of the British First Army.

Spanish resistance would scarcely deter the Wehrmacht, for Hitler has a formidable fifth column operating in the Iberian Peninsula. Were Franco to flee to the Allies, Herr Dr. Goebbels would have excellent material for propaganda against the United Nations in Europe. On the other hand, Franco might coöperate: he owes his power to the Axis as well as most of the revenues, available or in prospect, of the Spanish treasury.

Avenues of invasion

Where in the Mediterranean may the United Nations strike against the southern wall of Hitler’s fortress?

Salonika possesses the best harbor on the Mediterranean shore of Europe and is the historic approach to Central Europe by sea from the Southeast. Any expedition to Salonika would entail heavy use of sea and air power and might prove costly. Germany’s grip on Greece and the islands of the Aegean would provide her with the advantage of shore-based aircraft.

The best direct route to Germany from the South is through the Adriatic and up the valleys into Austria. Hitler is fortifying along the Adriatic in a frenzy of activity: he has assigned half the Italian navy to bar the approaches to that narrow sea. Here is another path which requires for exploitation plenty of sea power plus air control.

Will Italy be the highway for invasion from Africa next spring or early summer? Hitler and his opponents alike view Italy as a strong possibility. This is evident from the tug-of-war in progress between them: the Axis striving to fix its control more firmly, the Allies to induce revolution as preliminary to eventual attack.

Through his troops of occupation, his swarms of agents, his control of Italy’s airfields and navy, and Italy’s absolute dependence upon him for supplies — including fuel — the German tyrant holds many of the trumps. As in Spain, he would be fighting below mountain barriers through which he could retreat to the inner fortress.

The episode of Toulon, finally, marks the southern coast of France as an area where the Germans fear attack. That fear is well founded. The sea approaches here are wide. They could be harried only from the islands of Corsica and Sardinia.

Conflict of policies

Whether 1943 will see Germany pushed toward final defeat as mistress of the continent of Europe, or the beginning of a longer struggle through stalemate and revolutionary chaos, with unpredictable consequences to the nations of the West, will depend upon the ability of the United Nations to achieve the unity required for a political invasion, as well as the coördinated might essential to military success. Already their divergence in political aims is having ugly implications abroad.

Profound changes will ensue for human society from this war. To base them on decisions rooted in expediency is to invite repetition of the grim chronicle of war. Only if the changes spring from a common ground of affirmative principles, mutually supported by the great policy directors of the United Nations, can they be controlled.

When will that common ground of principles emerge? Time passes. Strange signs are appearing. The old cohorts of reaction are stirring — the same forces responsible for Hitler and the war itself. Champions of European monarchical revival press their programs — with singular evidences of approbation from the State and War Departments of the United States. Mr. Churchill proclaims his dedication to the familiar imperialistic thesis of “what we have we hold” — and shortly thereafter Sir Stafford Cripps is gently eliminated from the War Cabinet.

Peculiar portents

What do these things mean? The people in every oppressed nation in Europe are asking that question. Why is freedom of political discussion increasingly throttled in Britain and America? The Darlan affair of itself might be dismissed as little more than a maladroit accident, revealing failure at Washington to prepare against foreseeable contingencies. The Darlan affair, plus the episode of the War Department’s blessing to Otto von Hapsburg, plus the encouragement given Slovakian nationalists hostile to the Czech government in exile, plus ill-concealed moves toward restoration of defunct monarchies in Portugal, Spain, Austria, and supersession of the French Republic by royal rule — these add up to more than coincidence.

That is the view of the long-suffering Czechs, Poles, Serbians, Slovaks; of all opponents of Fascism in Hitler’s own subject nations; of all antiFascist Italians; of the uneasy Russians; of more than three quarters of the people of prostrate France, who cherish the heritage of Republican institutions; of friends of democracy in Britain and the Americas, North and South.

A “peace” governed by negative influences such as these would sow dragons’ teeth of social revolution all over Europe. It is therefore imperative that common ground for political agreements, which look forward creatively to the future rather than backward to the unhappy past, be found speedily. Time runs for the Allies not merely in the domains of physical war. It flies also in the realm of policy.


The schism in Italy on quitting the war.

The pace of Russia’s offensives will they slow down as they did last year?

The time-table in Tunisia and Tripolitania. Spain.

The Darlan affair — its widening repercussions.