ON THE WORLD TODAY
THE battle for Tunisia is more than a struggle to clear the Axis from North Africa and to pave the way for invasion of Europe from over the Mediterranean. The Casablanca conference has made it the key to this year’s war plans of the United Nations. Used in time, this key would enable us to widen our offensive across the world.
No revelation of the military secrets of Casablanca is needed to discover benefits, exploitable this summer, which success in Tunisia would yield to us and to our allies.
By wiping out Italian power in North Africa through occupation of Tripoli, General Montgomery’s British Eighth Army has wrested one point of the strategic triangle — Sicily-Tripoli-Tunisia — from Axis control. When Tunisia is won, Hitler will lose the second point. Possession of these two points on the North African shore will provide the United Nations with air bases dominating the narrow “waist” of the Mediterranean.
Air superiority over the Axis in Tunisia and Tripoli is already ours by a narrow margin. That margin is widening steadily as more personnel and better fighter planes arrive. With Tunisian bases, the United Nations should be able to draw full benefit from the island of Malta, Britain’s “anchored carrier.” We could then smother any Axis air power challenging us from Southern Italy, restore to the British Navy control of the straits of Sicily, and thus reopen the important supply line of the Southern Mediterranean from Gibraltar to the Suez Canal.
Speed is the prime factor of the Tunisian equation for the United Nations. Delay has become so important to Hitler that the temptation to win it by risking a drive through Spain is increasing at Berlin. The heavy movement of Axis troops into Southern Europe — Russia estimates them at 62 divisions — is not wholly explained by the threat of eventual invasion from Africa or any present menace to Hitler’s fortress from the direction of Turkey.
If Hitler tries a drive through Spain, he will threaten Gibraltar and General Eisenhower’s communications. ‘Thus the Tunisian campaign might be protracted far into the summer, Allied assault on the Mediterranean coast of Europe would then have to be postponed until next winter, and the Nazis would win valuable time to complete their defenses along the southern shores of Europe.
The Axis would gather other benefits from delay in Africa. These include: a hardening of Turkish neutrality which would protect Germany’s flank on the Bosporus; a psychological reverse for the United Nations in conquered Europe and throughout the Moslem-Arab world — which they could ill afford; postponement of a full-scale offensive in Burma; further discouragement for war-weary China; time for Japan to gain strength.
The odds in Africa
Hitler’s first and best bet for delay remains his army in Tunisia. In spite of a water hazard, he has nevertheless managed to assemble about 70,000 troops there for General Jürgin von Arnim, his Tunisian commander. These are the pick of the Wehrmacht. They include the recently organized Hermann Goring Division — a tough gang of black-shirted fanatics. Fresh Italian levies and the remnants of Rommel’s Afrika Korps give the Axis a possible 150,000 men for defense of the Tunisian bridgehead.
Against them, as the campaign rumbles into full swing, are aligned the British Eighth Army under General Montgomery, the forces of General Eisenhower, a small Fighting French army under General Leclerc, and some 60,000 excellent French Colonials under General Giraud.
Von Arnim is outnumbered by approximately 100,000 on land. We are widening our superiority in the air. But there are weaknesses on the United Nations side which may cause trouble.
The American forces are not yet “battle wise.” This includes some of their commanders. Witness the attempt to pit armored troop carriers against German tanks, reported by William Stoneman, one of the most reliable American correspondents. The French under Giraud are inadequately armed. Dependence placed on General Grant tanks, despite the shortcomings these weapons displayed in Egypt, is disquieting. It cannot be excused by any plea that they were expected to serve against possible French resistance.
There is no easy way to beat Hitler. The British have conned that lesson well. Americans must learn it, in affairs military as well as in affairs political, or pay dearly.
Russia is watching Tunisia with close attention, despite preoccupation with her winter offensive in Eastern Europe. In Tunisia she expects to find a yardstick with which to measure her prospects.
How will the offensive power of the American and British armies stack up against the defense system of the Nazis? The Russians know more about that German defense system than any other member of the United Nations. Success — in wresting the northern anchor from the German line at Leningrad, in annihilating German positions at Stalingrad, and in ripping the whole structure of Hitler’s accomplishment of 1942 to pieces this winter — has not diminished Russian respect for Germany’s defensive ability.
Tunisia will show Russia whether she must bear the main weight of the Wehrmacht during the rest of 1943, or whether the “grand squeeze” on Hitler’s fortress will get under way before autumn.
Political phases of the situation in Tunisia also focus Russian interest. Moscow’s dislike of the drift of Allied policy toward the heirs of Vichy is already officially registered in a protest filed at London. Importation of M. Peyrouton to North Africa has not helped matters. Peyrouton is a bitter foe of Russia.
Stalin’s absence from the Casablanca conference was doubtless due to his responsibilities as Supreme Commander during a great offensive. But he kept his military and diplomatic representatives away also. Does he intend to disassociate Russia in the eyes of prostrate Europe from any contact with appeasement policies, actual or implied?
At any rate, Russia’s political prestige in Europe is rising with her military prestige. Stalin’s “Order of the Day,” directing the Red Army to expel the foe “over the boundary” of the Soviet Union, pointed the moral even more sharply. It suggests that further compromises with fascism might limit Russia’s military activity if her war partners persist in them. President Roosevelt, swiftly intuitive as usual, has helped to clear the air with his declaration that “complete and unconditional surrender” represents the minimum terms for Rome, Berlin, and Tokyo. Premier Churchill’s reiteration of that policy at Ankara shows that he, too, understands Russia’s warning.
These bits of diplomatic byplay add up to one more warning of the need for a Council of the Allies on political aims. Do Mr. Roosevelt’s hints about a conference with Stalin presage one?
The successes of the Red Army reverberate across Europe. In little more than three months this superb fighting machine has justified the decision taken by the Russian General Staff last fall to overhaul the command. The oldest field general in the Red Army on the main front is but fifty years of age. Most of the operations commanders range from the middle thirties to the middle forties.
Perhaps the youth of these commanders explains why the Germans have this winter lost positions like Shlisselburg fortress, which they took in 1941. ith investment of base points of the powerful Smolensk-Kharkov-Rostov line, military experts in Berlin talk of retirement to the Dnieper. And six weeks of campaign weather remain.
Possibilities in the North
What does the new offensive preparing in the far North, opposite Petsamo, betoken? Is a gigantic pincer movement part of Allied strategy this year? Recent interest shown by the RAF, British Commandos, and American airmen in the Skagerrak, Denmark, Emden, and Wilhelmshaven suggests a plan to crash the gates of the Baltic. This would cut off Germany’s Norwegian garrison and open Norway to invasion while Russia drives over the top of the world along the Arctic coast. Such a scheme would put Hitler in a pretty pickle. Tangled in Russia, forced to concentrate in the South, he would be compelled to reinforce the Baltic shore also. He might be driven by desperate military logic to hit Sweden.
Does this possibility sound fantastic? Not to the shrewd and wary Swedes, who are putting 48 per cent of their national income into defense preparations this year. The Swedish press is chorusing warnings to Berlin not to think of Sweden as a military highway.
Sweden believes Germany is doomed. That is why there is bold talk in Stockholm of “Scandinavian solidarity,” a goal attainable when Denmark, Norway, and possibly Finland are rescued from Nazi toils and blandishments.
The gloom in Germany is due mainly to the disaster that has overtaken German arms in the East. But it is also traceable in part to worry about the threat in the South, to the hurricane of blows inflicted upon the industrial cities of the Reich from the air, and to other less obvious contributing factors. Events in the East have stirred the great Slav population of the Balkan regions. The North African invasion, the destruction of Rommel’s army, Italy’s loss of her Empire, the Casablanca conference — all these have added to the unrest Germany faces within her fortress.
Mutiny is increasing among the Axis satellites: Bulgaria, Rumania, Slovakia, and Hungary - like Finland and Italy — have decided that Hitler is beginning to lose the war.
Rumblings within the fortress
Bulgaria is kept from exploding only by an ironhanded German garrison. Rumania is engaged in a murderous, if muffled, struggle against the Nazis. While starvation begets riots among the peasants of Hungarythe Hungarian Parliament rings with speeches from spokesmen of all parties. Premier Kali ay opines that “ 1918 is about to be repeated ”; the Parliamentary Opposition speaks of “the coming catastrophe”; labor leaders talk of “deep social revolution.” Slovakian troops are deserting.
To counter these grim portents, the Nazis redouble their terror across Europe and unleash propaganda campaigns directed at their own people and at the British and Americans. Signs of alarm about military prospects include a decision to raise the new “auxiliary army” to a total of 250 divisions; the conscription of all men in Germany between the ages of 16 and 65 and of all women from 18 to 45; and an order from Fritz Sauckel, Hitler’s labor boss, for “a mobilization of all available resources to an extent never equaled in history.”
Urgent drafts on the conquered have raised to 11,000,000 the number of aliens now at work in German war industries, according to the Nazi Economics Ministry. Reorganization of the naval command under the ruthless Admiral Karl Doenitz, genius of German U-boat warfare, indicates an all-out gamble on submarine warfare, while Nazi propaganda pushes its new anti-Semitic campaign in America, plays on Western conservatism’s fears of Russia, and prepares one more grandiose drive for a negotiated peace.