European Front


HERR GOEBBELS’S New Year message to the German people hinted plainly at the political and military factors which motivate the desperate expedients of the Nazi High Command. In the south, the west, and the east, the ability of the Third Reich to continue in the war many months longer has grown more doubtful than at any other time since Hitler relinquished command. Through a stalemate and the discouragement of the Allies, the Nazis hope to gain an acceptable peace.

A stalemate is imperative if Germany’s industrial centers are to be saved. Without them she must quit. She must block the Allies from the industrial Ruhr, Rhineland, and Saar. Otherwise the German war machine will lose its most productive supply sources in coal and iron and its largest concentration of factories, foundries, and synthetic oil industries.

To force the Allies to a snail-paced war of attrition west of the Rhine is equally necessary for realization of other plans of the Nazi High Command. If von Rundstedt can accomplish this, Germany may be able to strengthen the central section of the eastern front, where the long-impending Russian attack threatens the second remaining industrial center of importance under Nazi control — German Silesia.

Finally, there is the growing Russian threat to Austria, which harbors other important German war industries and supply sources, and to Western Czechoslovakia, where the largest single munitions plant in all Europe, the Skoda Works, stands by the eastern gateway to Bavaria.

The political misadventures of the Western Allies in Europe and the Mediterranean, and their midwinter bickering about policies, provide Goebbels with a new opportunity. For the first time in nearly three years, the Nazis have been able to combine military, psychological, and fifth-column warfare into an effective and compact weapon for attack. Goebbels hopes for still another peace offensive.

Why were we foxed?

How did it happen that the German commander was able to achieve such surprise that his powerful smash through Luxembourg and Belgium encountered no adequate mobile reserves suitably placed to develop a swift defense in depth behind the Allied front?

The fact that the Germans sped approximately fifty miles westward before reserves and regroupings were sufficient to halt and turn them back suggests that overconfidence at Allied Headquarters led to neglect of lessons taught in the Russian campaigns during the past two years. German commanders have tried precisely these tactics again and again when they have been forced into tight corners. In the west they have simply repeated the performance. Why was this familiar German practice ignored?

Criticism directed at the Allied Military Intelligence suggests what part of the answer may be. That any German commander should be able to muster two full armies, and possibly three, on a fifty-mile front, with all their service and supply adjuncts, including the equipment for six, and perhaps more, panzer divisions, and hurl them in a surprise assault against the connecting link between two Allied armies, certainly does little credit to Allied Military Intelligence. General Peyton March, former Chief of Staff of the AEF in World War I, put his finger on this weakness in the Allied military organization.

The nature of the terrain afforded excellent cover for the German troops as they converged to position. Von Rundstedt operated on efficient interior lines.

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Protracted rain and all-enveloping fog blinded Allied air reconnaissance and land observation points alike for days, affording the Germans ample time to achieve concentration unnoticed. Finally — and let’s not forget it — there was a large quantity of American overoptimism among our commanders.

Supplementing these valuable, if fortuitous, assets were hundreds of German agents planted within and behind the Allied lines, disguised as civilian refugees in captured German towns and as natives in Eastern Belgium. They were able to supply von Rundstedt with ample data on the Allied troop dispositions and supply arrangements.

Some of these defects have already been corrected by the Allied military authorities. The activities of German civilians and ubiquitous German agents needs emphasis, however. Here is a danger of real dimensions. It calls for drastic tightening of Allied military policy in the whole forward zone. Himmler is not waiting for the defeat of Germany to set in motion the machinery of disruption and treachery.

As in the original invasion of the Netherlands and Norway, we are presented with the spectacle of German troops disguised in the uniforms of those they propose to attack, German radios attempting to spread confusion by simulating Allied military orders, German civilian agents collaborating with air-borne saboteurs, German rumor-dispensers striving to unleash civilian panic far behind the lines.

It is to the everlasting credit of the American doughboys that they were not panicked by this sinister blitzkrieg. The stratagems were short-lived. It may be doubted that such tactics will achieve much success in the future. Allied fighting men have learned what many policy directors on the Allied side are still slow to grasp about the nature of the foe they are fighting.

Germany’s hidden strength

Where has Germany found the military strength lately in evidence? Has she drawn on some hidden reserve which escaped Allied detection? It is important to notice that her recent surges of power are not restricted to the western front. Simultaneously the Wehrmacht has lashed out in Italy and hurled a counterattack against the Russians above Budapest in Hungary. The ecstatic Goebbels, in the first flush of an excitement which has since moderated, spoke of the “miracle” of the appearance of new German divisions in the early days of von Rundstedt’s attack.

It may be doubted that the explanation of this burst of Nazi energy lies in any secretly developed strategic reserve. The quality of the panzer forces employed by von Rundstedt also indicates that these were not gleanings from the recent Volkssturm levies. Evidence is plentiful that the best of these forces are veterans, from formations which are already known to the Allies.

To the rested and refitted remnants of the three German armies broken in France and Belgium last summer, the German High Command appears to have added at least one Elite Guard division brought from Italy and several divisions repatriated from Norway and Denmark. The remainder of the concentration may have been assembled by plucking good divisions and some armor from along the northern reaches of the Siegfried Line, on the sound theory that a drive into Belgium and Luxembourg would reduce the possibility of any major Allied offensive in the north for the time being.

Movement of veteran divisions from Norway and Denmark prior to the German offensive was reported by the underground forces early in December. This testimony finds confirmation in a tremendous wave of sabotage in both nations during recent weeks.

Last summer the Germans halted Russia’s power drive on Warsaw by throwing twelve panzer divisions into action on a narrow front. The long pause on the Vistula makes it probable that some of these may have been shifted to the western and Hungarian fronts. This possibility becomes stronger if von Rundstedt has gambled on continued inaction along the Vistula until the Allies reach the Rhine. Germany is still betting heavily on armor to offset deficiencies in air power.

Until the weather permits full resumption of aerial attack on her communications, her strength promises to remain formidable. The scale of her combat losses, however, must more than match our own.

A new fifth column

Revival of fifth-column activities in Belgium, France, and Italy is one of the by-products of the present stage of the European war. The French government has announced that German agents have been dropped by parachute far behind the front lines in Central France, where they are attempting to resume contacts with Vichy sympathizers. The new French security police are hunting down these unwelcome visitors.

The combing out of collaborators and traitors in many French cities and towns is also being speeded up. So are the purge trials. This is possible in France because the de Gaulle regime has incorporated the bulk of the former resistance forces into the Army or into the auxiliary police service. These men know the Nazi and his tricks. Their own grim experiences in underground fighting equip them with special competence for the resumed struggle against a foe now seeking to operate under cover.

The French government does not conceal its anxiety about this fifth-column activity. The sudden wave of rumor-mongering and the anti-Allied agitation attending the explosion of German strength on the western front have jarred Frenchmen unpleasantly. Naturally, this complicates the difficulty of political and economic reconstruction.

Italy stands by herself in recent reversion to fifthcolumn operations. The fleeting appearance of German success has brought into play the whole hitherto concealed apparatus of the Italian Fascist underground. Clandestine newspapers, issued by agents of the Nazis and their Italian stooge at Milan, Benito Mussolini, are appearing in Rome and Naples. Fascist leaflets are spread through many sectors of the liberated countryside. Traveling fomenters of riot and assiduous spreaders of rumors are at work.

The wretched condition of the Italian populace, the continuing disruption of the Italian economy, the frustration of those striving to translate Italian democratic aspirations into an effective, operative program, provide wide opportunities for Italy’s fifth columnists and their Axis partners.

Wanted: new armies

Belgium is making progress with her policy of absorbing resistance forces into the regular army and into police formations, where their experience is proving of inestimable value in combating the fifth column. Approximately half of the 82,000 members of the underground cadres are now inducted into these services or are preparing for induction. Premier Pierlot’s announcement that the Allies are to equip forty Belgian battalions for immediate service in the war is being implemented by a Belgian military commission lately dispatched to London.

Sounder Allied appraisal of the task of defeating the Germans, and a less hysterical view of the political objectives of the resistance forces, explain in part the speed-up of army-building in Belgium. The French likewise find a direct challenge in recent events on the western front. Uneasiness about the small military representation of France in the battle lines and anxiety over the problem of controlling Germany in defeat raise new and insistent demands at Paris for more realism on the question of equipping larger levies of Frenchmen for service.

Early in January, the practical value of these proposals was eliciting favorable response from London and Washington. Estimates by the French Minister of War indicate that more than 600,000 men are immediately available for Army service in France. It should not be difficult to equip a substantial fraction of these quickly, since many already possess considerable combat experience.

Germany’s revelation of fighting power since midDecember therefore promises to accelerate revival of military strength in France. It has also produced a call for a quarter of a million new recruits in Britain, a drastic overhaul of Selective Service schedules in the United States, and orders for a 35 per cent increase in the production of airplanes and repair parts during the first quarter of the new year.

Can three agree?

The meeting of the Big Three involves two broad areas of discussion and decision in the realm of policy. One has to do with immediate issues related to the progress of the war and the handling of European problems stemming from them — such as Greece, Italy, and the question of what to do about Germany when she is defeated. In spite of the pother blown up around them, these are actually of less real importance to the world than the much greater question of achieving reconciliation among the major Allies on the large issues of high policy.

Russia has two policies and is carrying them along in parallel. One is based upon the assumption that efforts to organize the world for security and peace through international agreements, under agencies proposed at Dumbarton Oaks, will succeed. Russia has shown every intention of giving full coöperation if this program is realized. Meantime, she is also safeguarding herself against the possibility that the plan may fail, because of the unpredictability of the mood of the United States Senate. This explains her vigorous security measures along her own borders — in Eastern Poland, for instance — and also the extension of her influence through the Balkans.

Great Britain is endeavoring to reshape her policy as a result of the partial failure of her plan for a Britishdominated Western European bloc. That is why her government spokesmen and her press have shown so much anxiety about the purposes of the United States since Mr. Churchill’s efforts to identify his activities in Italy, Greece, Belgium, and the Balkans with American foreign policy were jolted by the Stettinius note. Knowledge of American intentions is practically indispensable to the shaping of any new British policy.

The American policy position is, however, less obscure than the British imagine. It is in part based on tradition — no separate guarantees of European frontiers by the United States, for instance. But it is based more importantly upon the thesis that world organization for peace can work only if an authoritative agency is established, if all major powers belong to it, and if they agree to modify their age-old predilections for imperialistic maneuvers. Hence the tart dissent from Britain’s course in Italy and other liberated European countries.