European Front


GREATEST of all the benefits won by the United Nations in the savage tussle in French North Africa is the union of their forces there. This union transforms the supply picture of the war. Hitherto the British Eighth Army has been compelled to depend upon material sent around Africa, up the Indian Ocean, through the Red Sea, into Egypt, and then westward by sea and desert roads. Now that army can draw military sustenance (except for part of its oil) directly from the Atlantic at the ports of Casablanca, Oran, and Algiers.

This shortening of supply lines saves thousands of miles for cargoes and reinforcements. It implies a speed-up of plans for assault upon Europe from over the Mediterranean. Blows that Hitler hoped to thwart till early autumn become a possibility by midsummer. Consolidation of United Nations forces, progress in re-equipping the 300,000 French colonials under General Henri Giraud and General Charles de Gaulle, expansion of General Eisenhower’s army, all indicate that a force close to 800,000 strong will be ready a few weeks after the Tunisian bridgehead has been cleared.

Steppingstones of invasion

The rapid Tunisian campaign is producing other significant repercussions in the Mediterranean theater. Islands continue to be important. Before an invasion of Hitler’s European Fortress can be mounted from Africa, the stumbling blocks of Axis resistance symbolized by the Dodecanese, Crete, Sicily, and Sardinia must be cleared. This task is not being permitted to await the final mop-up in Tunisia. Note that our first mass raid by Flying Fortresses was aimed at the naval base on Sardinia.

British-held Cyprus would be a logical base for attack on the Italian-held Dodecanese, which block access to the upper Turkish coast and the easternmost sea lane to the Dardanelles.

Crete commands approaches by water to Turkey. It presents a barrier to any invasion drive north from Africa aimed at the great port of Salonika in Eastern Greece which was used effectively by the French in World War I against the AustroHungarian Empire.

Sicily blocks the nearest route to Italy from Algeria and Tunisia. Sicily is also the key to the Adriatic — from the shores of which the road to Vienna is short.

Sardinia (in combination with Corsica) guards the water lanes to Southern France as well as the great port of Genoa. An invasion hitting Genoa would threaten to cut off every Axis garrison in Central and Southern Italy.

Assault on some or all of these island outposts of Hitler’s European Fortress will precede invasion. The storming of Sicily by air-borne infantry, in conjunction with attack from the sea, may well be part of the great invasion attempt itself— if the Allies have decided to route their drive by way of Italy and the Adriatic. In such case, they would enjoy protection on their right flank where the rugged terrain of the Balkans and the bitter guerrilla war in the mountains would aid them.

Loss of Sicily, like a drive into Genoa, might compel the Germans to retire to Northern Italy.

That course is already urged by some German strategists, who consider the foothills of the Alps Germany’s natural defense line.

Turkey weighs the chances

The apparatus hitherto supplying the British Eighth Army by way of Egypt is now available for the Allied Ninth and Tenth Armies in the Near East. This is a fact of tremendous importance. Coupled with evidence of Allied fighting power in Tunisia, it tugs the Turks strongly toward war against the Nazis.

Turkey’s neutrality, strictly a matter of cold realism based on Turkey’s view of her own interest, does not preclude decision to enter the war the moment her government believes the advantages of so doing outweigh the advantages of staying out. Two considerations now disturb the Turks: —

1. The position Turkey will occupy at the peace table if she remains neutral and finds Russia seated there in the role of triumphant belligerent. Ankara has not forgotten that Russia’s perennial interest in the Straits came within an ace of making serious trouble in the fall of 1940.

2. Turkey’s guardianship of the gate to the Black Sea. Growing German control over the Italian Navy has alarmed Ankara. Do the Nazis plan to bring the Italian fleet to the Straits in conjunction with their evident decision to stage one more all-out drive this year toward the oil fields of the Russian Caucasus?

A surprise invasion by air from Bulgaria might give the Germans control over both shores of the Dardanelles and the Bosporus very quickly. That would permit the Nazis to supplement any drive by land through Rostov and the Crimea with sea power heavily outmatching Russia’s tiny Black Sea fleet. It would open the whole Caucasian coast. Worse, it would put Turkey in mortal danger where she is weakest: on her own Black Sea littoral.

This threat, pushing Turkey toward intervention, adds meaning to recent emphasis at Ankara on the alliance with Britain, friendliness toward Russia, and use of the supply system via Egypt vacated by the British Eighth Army. So does the total “civilian mobilization” lately ordered in Bulgaria — Turkey’s old foe. Fresh swarms of German reserves are moving into Southeastern Europe. Ostensibly they are being sent to develop defenses against possible Allied invasion via Turkey. Is their purpose actually defensive?

Sparring in Russia

Spring thaws have reduced the fighting on the Russian front to limited regional thrusts for position. Every action on that battle line now is concerned with the great offensives both sides are preparing for late spring.

Germany does not conceal her purpose. She is accumulating mountains of supplies at the base points of her southeastern front in Russia and shifting thousands of reserves from Western Europe, where their places are being taken by skeletonized divisions of middle-aged troops, garrison troops hitherto posted in the Reich, levies drawn from Nazi satellites, and the new “local territorial defense guards ” who are being mustered from sympathizers in vanquished states under quisling direction.

Recapture of Kharkov and Belgorod reinforces Germany’s position for her expected final drive for Russian oil, need for which is emphasized in innumerable items trickling through the Nazi press. To counter this drive on the Don basin and over the Kerch peninsula, Russia is planning a climactic smash which she hopes to be able to deliver from the area between Smolensk and Leningrad. Its objective will be the main communications line upon which the German campaign farther south depends. Thus, it is pointed at Poland.

Russia’s winter campaign has also produced one result which, though little observed, should prove of considerable value. It has spoiled Nazi plans for cultivation of the vast reaches of the Southern Ukraine this summer. Hitler had depended upon this project very heavily. Its abandonment is attested by the decision taken in Berlin to move the elaborate slave-labor organization created this past winter for mass farming of the Ukraine farther north and westward to the vicinity of Eastern Poland and the adjacent territory.

The coming offensives

The “second front” means only one thing to Russia: a major land front in Europe. At last this is on the Allied schedule. Indeed, it begins to look as if there may be not one such front, but four: a major and a secondary front in the Mediterranean, and similar arrangements on the Atlantic coastal side of Hitler’s Fortress. That the main blow in the Mediterranean will be directed against Italy appears certain. The other most likely springboard in that area points toward the Balkan corridor from the Near East.

A tremendous speed-up of counter-moves is under way. General von Halder, chief strategist of the German High Command, is assigned a mission to the West where he is overhauling arrangements and charting strategy. The wrecking program is in full swing among the coastal towns of Europe.

To thwart hopes for collaboration between the invaders and the victims of German conquest, the vast slave raid on the West has been intensified. Nearly three quarters of a million Dutchmen have been removed from the coastal regions of the Netherlands since February. Ten trainloads of French labor conscripts are being taken daily from France. The extermination program in Poland continues. Well may General Wladyslaw Sikorski, commander of the Polish army in exile, warn his allies that “this cannot continue much longer,”while M. Jules Henri, chief of the French underground, cries to his British and American friends: “ In God’s name, hurry.” He fears Western Europe may be stripped of men who want to be our auxiliaries when invasion begins.

Black market and sabotage

The black market, index of social and economic confusion, portrays Europe’s plight. Last month, a man’s overcoat cost $480 in Belgium, shoes $58 to $65 a pair, butter $12.50 a pound, flour $1.75 a pound, sugar $1.35 a pound, salad oil $16 a quart. Coal was selling in the mining areas at $36 a ton while wood brought $78 a cord.

Sabotage by the vanquished peoples is clipping nearly 25 per cent from Germany’s war production and supply facilities in the West. Here is a partial record of destruction in less than one month in Belgium: five electric power stations, coal car and mining machinery throughout the Charleroi district, German recruiting offices for labor at Liége and Brussels, crops, harvesting machinery, storage warehouses, barns, and farm buildings in three provinces, five German army garages, two clothing factories, three city streetcar systems, several locomotives, one locomotive factory, two tunnels, one chemical factory, and one powder factory. Fire and dynamite are used in these forays. And there is much minor sabotage — thefts of machinery parts, slowdowns, shootings.

The Nazis speak of peace and plan for war

The “unconditional surrender” policy laid down at Casablanca is being tested furtively by the Germans — thus far without the results they desire. Finland. Hungary, Rumania, and Bulgaria have all put out feelers to discover what prospects exist for a compromise peace. All have met rebuff.

Meanwhile the plans of the Nazis regarding peace assume clearer outlines. Diplomacy is being dovetailed into military arrangements. Preparing a gigantic defensive war in the West and a new offensive in the East, Germany is busier than ever with her effort to drive wedges of division among her opponents. Her corralling of manpower from the West has a design ulterior to the wresting of labor from her slaves. These victims are to become hostages whose lives she will post for barter in the last extremity. Will she use poison gas? Will her strategy require an invasion of Spain?

Political rocks and shoals ahead

Policy begins to occupy a role equal in importance with Allied operations in the military field. The mission of Archbishop Francis J. Spellman to Europe is related to something more than Allied interest in Italy’s prospective exit from the war. It touches upon basic Allied policy for dealing with the Axis and its satellites, especially in Southern Europe.

Italy neither can nor will quit this war until the United Nations can guarantee against a return of the Germans. This means that the Germans first must be expelled. Accordingly, any and all diplomatic maneuvers are contingent upon successful invasion. As junior partner in the Axis, Italy presents thorny problems for her prospective liberators. Her people are badly divided.

Differences in policy emerge among the Allies. Witness Premier Churchill’s delineation of Britain’s new imperialism, the Standley affair in Moscow, the travels of Mr. Eden, the invitation from Washington to Russia for parleys, the clash over post-war airways policies, the new Keynes plan to tie the dollar to the pound on gold.

These developments and collisions are not necessarily misfortunes. They signal the approach of great problems which demand discussion. The sooner the Allies define their purposes and bring peace plans down to earth, the sooner will prospects for a workable peace improve.