The Great Unequalizer
The Pandemic Is Compounding Disparities in Income, Wealth, and Opportunity
THE summer just past marked the beginning of the decline of Axis power in Europe. President Roosevelt termed the conquest of Sicily and the opening of the Mediterranean the "beginning of the end for the Axis." . . . But only the beginning. For Germany, as autumn sets in, is still very strong. Gigantic air raids, the Russian Army and the Anglo-American campaign in the Mediterranean have weakened but have not broken her. And as the ring of retribution closes about her she is forging new political blades with which to defend herself.
Today political factors appear to be increasingly important -- perhaps even decisive -- for the outcome of the war. Nazi propaganda is emphasizing the natural lines of cleavage between the different members of the United Nations, and evidence grows that Hitler hopes by dividing his enemies to escape his looming fate. In view of this, the most urgent need is for a clearer understanding among the United States, Britain and Russia.
With the end of summer, outpost battles were drawing to an end in three theaters -- the Mediterranean, Western Europe and the North Pacific. In one or all of them we were preparing to assault the enemy's "main line of resistance."
The largest campaign, and the one bringing the most immediate strategical results, was in the Mediterranean. Here all three elements of American armed power -- land, sea and air -- participated as sections of an Allied Force under General Dwight D. Eisenhower in the preparations, preliminary actions and final 38 days of fighting of the Sicilian campaign. The hundreds of thousands of American boys who fought shoulder to shoulder in Sicily with British "Tommies" and Canadians from the woods and prairie provinces can lay valid claim to a good share in the glory for the overthrow of Mussolini on July 25 and for the official (though not as yet ideological) dissolution of Italian Fascism which ensued.
The conquest of Sicily was a logical continuation of the conquest of Tunisia. But it had to be preceded by operations to reduce the Italian-held fortress island of Pantelleria and the lightly-held island of Lampedusa, lying in the Mediterranean narrows between Sicily and Tunisia.
Pantelleria was virtually bombed into surrender, the first time such a thing had occurred in military history. The rocky little island, garrisoned by 11,188 troops (all except 78 of whom were Italians), was attacked continuously and repeatedly, day after day, night after night, for 20 days, the last 13 of them intensively. Major-General James H. Doolittle commanded the Northwest African Strategic Air Force which conducted the bombardment. He declared that the fall of Pantelleria, exclusively to air might, was, like the German conquest of Crete, "definitely a landmark in the history of military aviation."
The Italian surrender of Pantelleria before our landing forces reached the beaches was also a prediction of things to come. For all observers agreed after an inspection of the island's bomb-pocked areas that poor Italian morale had been largely responsible for the lack of resistance to our surface troops. Some of the means to resist had been destroyed by our air bombardment; but there were still water and food, and some guns were intact. A determined garrison could have held the little island longer, though the end would have been the same. With the fall of Pantelleria there fell also Lampedusa and Linosa (another little island nearby), virtually of their own weight. The Mediterranean was practically open and the way to Sicily cleared.
The invasion of Sicily, which started on the night of July 9-10, was one of the largest amphibious expeditions known in history. As 3,266 transports, landing craft and ships, vessels and boats of all kinds steamed through the night to their appointed places off the Sicilian coast, scores of DC-3's and other transport planes winged across the narrow stretch of the Mediterranean. They carried what was one of the largest air-borne expeditions in history. The parachute troops and glider-borne infantry were both British and American. The American units, of the Eighty-second Air-borne Division, Major-General Matthew B. Ridgeway commanding, were landed some distance from their planned objectives, due in part to faulty air navigation, and were rather scattered in the darkness. The full shock of their attack thus was not felt as planned. Nevertheless, the "vertical envelopment" made possible by air power took the enemy in the rear, provided an effective diversion, and in some instances eliminated enemy beach defenses which otherwise would have opposed the landings of our sea-borne troops. An airfield was eventually seized and used as an "airhead" where transport planes could land.
The main sea-borne landing by American troops took place on the south coast, from six miles west of Licata to Cape Scalambri. Canadian and British troops landed around Cape Passero, the southeast corner of the tricorn island, and eventually on the southern part of the eastern coast, almost as far north as Syracuse. The landings had been carefully planned and prepared and the approach "softened" by intensive and prolonged air bombardment of Sicily's principal airfields. The landings themselves, and the Axis communications with the mainlands, were covered by air power and by naval guns. American cruisers, destroyers, "PC" boats, minesweepers and landing craft, and American Fortresses, Liberators, P-38's, P-40's and the new fighter-dive bomber, the North American A-36, formed the covering force.
General Eisenhower was in strategic command of the Sicilian operations, but General Sir Harold R. L. G. Alexander was the field commander, as he had been in Tunisia. The Fifteenth Army Group under General Alexander was composed in about equal parts of American and British-Canadian units. General Sir Bernard L. Montgomery, with a reconstituted Eighth Army and a Canadian division and brigade, made the landings in eastern and southeastern Sicily. A newly formed American Seventh Army, under Lieutenant-General George S. Patton, Jr., made the landings on the south coast. The Seventh Army was composed of the "Fighting First" Infantry Division, the Third, Ninth and Forty-fifth Infantry Divisions, the Second Armored Division and the Eighty-second Air-borne Division, plus attached units. The initial sea landings were made by the First (Major-General Terry de LaM. Allen, commanding), which had served throughout the campaign in Tunisia and is perhaps the most battle-hardened of our American divisions, and by the Third and the Forty-fifth. Elements of the Second Armored Division's tanks subsequently "leapfrogged" through them, and later in the campaign elements of the Ninth Division were ferried over from Tunisia. The Forty-fifth (Major-General Troy H. Middleton) was transported directly to Sicily from the United States, with only a brief halt in North Africa. The Third (Major-General Lucien K. Truscott), and the Second Armored (Major-General Hugh J. Gaffey) had participated in the initial landings in North Africa but had not fought in the Tunisian campaign. The Ninth (Major-General M. S. Eddy) fought in a part of the Tunisian campaign, but did not participate in Sicilian operations until the latter part of the fighting. The Thirty-fourth Division and the First Armored Division (Army of the United States), both of which had fought in Tunisia, did not take part in the Sicilian operations. General Patton's two corps commanders were Lieutenant-General Omar N. Bradley, one of the finest American field leaders this war has developed, and Major-General Geoffrey Keyes. Vice Admiral Henry K. Hewitt commanded the American naval forces that participated, with Rear Admirals Alan G. Kirk, John L. Hall, Jr., and Richard L. Connolly as sub-commanders of American task forces.
Despite the immense preparations required for the invasion of Sicily, tactical surprise was secured and stood us in good stead. The enemy garrison of nine to eleven Italian divisions and three to four German divisions -- a total of probably more than 300,000 men [i] -- undoubtedly expected an attack and knew when it was coming; but they did not know where. Apparently they expected landings on the southwest coast. Because of the mobility which our forces enjoyed as a result of our control of the sea the enemy was unable to shift his forces quickly enough to meet our landings in the southeast.
Another factor, of course, that accounted for the success of the landings and the few casualties was the state of Italian morale. Sicily revealed it in all its weakness. Italian coastal divisions held the island's perimeter; contrary to expectation, they had done little to fortify and strengthen their positions, and after firing a few shots surrendered in droves. If Germans rather than Italians had formed the major part of the island garrison the nature of the campaign would have been materially altered; indeed, the outcome might have been different. This point cannot be emphasized too much, for the Tunisian and Sicilian campaigns have led Americans to belittle the difficulties of the battles still ahead.
The naval losses in the American landings and from subsequent attacks by Axis air forces were slight. The destroyer Maddox was sunk by a bomb, some other small naval units were lost and a couple of hundred ships' boats were probably damaged or destroyed; yet the loss of landing craft was remarkably small.
But the easy landing did not set a precedent for the Sicilian fighting. Scarcely had we established a beachhead near Gela before the troops of the First Division, still without armored support and with but few anti-tank guns and little artillery, were challenged heavily by tanks, apparently of the German Fifteenth Panzer Division. We seem to have been closer to disaster at that moment -- a day or so after our landing -- than at any other time in Sicily. About 100 enemy tanks made the assault; they penetrated our thin lines in the center; Italians and Germans attacked on the flanks; we were pushed back almost to the sea. At the end of the day, after the battle had surged and swayed, the men were exhausted, their ammunition almost gone, and the enemy was attacking again. Then an American commander (his name is so far unknown, but it probably was General Allen) issued an order: "We attack tonight!" It was an order which marked the turning point in Sicily.
In other engagements along the beaches the guns of American destroyers supported our forces ashore and in direct fire beat off enemy tanks, thereby supplying emphatic proof of the contention of Admiral of the Fleet, Lord Keyes, that naval gunfire can be of great effect against shore targets.
The Americans established contact with the Canadians on their right flank. The British pushed northward, occupying Syracuse and Augusta quickly and thence driving out onto the seamed and difficult Catania plain, where their parachute troops had seized and held for a long time a key bridge across a deep river gorge. The Americans and Canadians meanwhile were expanding inland, capturing airfields and key junction points, and constantly reen-forced by the bridge of ships behind them. Then, as the Italian resistance collapsed, the Americans took Agrigento, raced across towards Palermo and fanned out over the entire western portion of the island. By July 21 the issue was no longer in doubt. Americans and Canadians were closing in on Enna, important road junction and communications center in central Sicily, and the capture of this place severed the main Axis communication routes. Palermo fell soon thereafter. The Americans then pushed on to take up their position with the British and Canadians in a line which extended across the island.
The hardest part of the fighting then commenced. The Italians had virtually been eliminated. Mussolini's deposition on July 25 made no apparent difference in Sicily, for as someone remarked the Italians could not possibly fight worse under Badoglio than they had under Mussolini. But the Germans remained -- courageous, willing to die, well-armed. The terrain was so rugged that a few men could hold up a multitude.
Troina was perhaps the toughest of the Sicilian battles. Its capture by American troops after four or five days of bloody effort really breached the enemy's Mt. Etna line and ushered in the last phase of the campaign. Americans in the center subsequently captured Randazzo, key junction point, and on the north flank, where the difficult Sicilian mountains shoulder the sea, our progress was facilitated by a series of bold outflanking amphibious movements which forced the Germans to give ground hurriedly. Units of the American Third Division entered Messina, bomb-battered bridgehead to Southern Italy, on August 17. Apparently the Germans had commenced preparing the evacuation of Sicily in the latter part of July, but they fought an effective delaying action until that date. Artillery guns immediately commenced to duel across the two-mile-wide Messina Strait. The Battle of Sicily had ended and the Battle of Italy was beginning.
The campaign took 38 days, somewhat longer than had been hoped, despite the fact that Italian morale proved even more brittle than we expected. Of the 300,000-odd Axis troops in the island, apparently some 65,000 -- possibly more -- escaped in the evacuation, and took much of their equipment with them. Well over 135,000 were prisoners, according to an incomplete account at the time of writing. The total Axis casualties were expected to mount to more than 200,000. The Axis planes destroyed or captured numbered 1,691; the enemy ships or boats sunk numbered 34; and several hundred tanks and more than 500 guns were destroyed or captured. Allied casualties were estimated by General Eisenhower at about 25,000. General Alexander said that 7,400 American soldiers were killed, wounded or captured in the campaign. British casualties were put at 11,835, Canadian at 2,388. Our plane losses were 274, our merchant ship losses perhaps 85,000 tons.
Sicily was a clear-cut victory. The conquest of the island helped to destroy Italian Fascism, shook Italy and the structure of Germanic Europe to its foundations, propped open a gateway to Europe and made the Mediterranean reasonably secure for the passage of Allied convoys. Moreover, the campaign marked the coming-of-age of the American Army, or at any rate of those units of the American Army that participated. The planning was good; the leadership and the battle discipline were obviously better -- much better -- than in Tunisia. The strategy and tactics used were sound, though cautious. We exploited our factors of naval and air superiority well. However, our naval superiority might have been used in a rather less fettered manner and (if General Eisenhower had been free to plan it) troops might have been landed directly on the Italian "toe" to cut the enemy's line of retreat. The air forces under Air Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder (with Lieutenant General Carl A. Spaatz, Commander of the Northwest African Air Force, as American chief) aided the ground forces materially. With the advantage of greatly superior numbers they quickly won and maintained air superiority.
While the battle of Sicily was being fought in the Mediterranean other American forces were helping to develop another major front in Western Europe -- a front of the air. The Eighth United States Army Air Force, based on Britain, had been increased tremendously in strength in the spring and early summer, and by August was making raids of more than 300 planes deep into Germany. These raids dovetailed with RAF night raids (sometimes executed by more than 800 bombers) into as intensive and continuous a pattern of round-the-clock bombing as weather and the rate of losses permitted. The tonnage of bombs dropped upon Germany increased tremendously as summer advanced, and there was no doubt that the bombardment was having a major effect upon German morale, industry and transportation. In effect, the air front had become a major front.
The Eighth Air Force completed a year of operations from Britain in August. The following table illustrates its month-by-month growth better than words can do:
|Bombs Dropped||U. S. Plane||Enemy Plane|
The 15,000 tons of bombs dropped from American-manned bombers on Germany and German-occupied territory are as yet only a small percentage of the 136,000 tons dropped by the RAF bomber command. But our Fortresses have proved -- as those who had faith in them knew they would -- one of the great tactical surprises of the war; they are now rightly called one of the world's best fighting planes. The "Forts" and the Liberators demonstrated their ability in July and August to penetrate deeply into Germany in daylight, something that had not been done since the war's beginning. Our losses have been large, however -- 36 heavy bombers in one raid. As the German fighter defenses may actually be growing in strength, the demonstration is not yet conclusive. If it can be made so, it is the beginning of the end for Germany in the air.
In any case, the pattern of the air bombardment of Europe was definitely in an advancing stage in July and August. Not only did the weight and intensity of the attacks increase, but the range of the raids was increased. Germany was under aerial assault from two directions. Liberators smashed the Ploesti oil refineries in Rumania, and more Liberators of the Ninth and Twelfth American Air Forces in North Africa attacked targets all over Italy and a Messerschmitt factory near Vienna. The first daylight shuttle bombing raids starting from England and ending in North Africa also occurred.
The same story of victory on land and in the air was repeated at sea during the summer months. The German submarine campaign had commenced to lose some of its terrors in the spring, and it continued to languish. President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill announced in August that we had sunk 90 submarines in three months, an average of sure sinkings of about one a day. Meanwhile, Allied ship sinkings were greatly reduced and Allied ship construction greatly increased. The battle of the Atlantic has unmistakably turned in our favor. Our lines of communication and supply across the seas have been secured.
The long Pacific calm was broken by another amphibious move in the South Pacific and by the beginning of the process which will translate the Aleutians from a defensive to one from which we shall carry the war to the Japanese.
In late June, some weeks after the date for which it had been scheduled, General Douglas MacArthur and Admiral William F. Halsey began a joint move. General MacArthur's forces moved toward Salamaua, Japanese base in New Guinea, and Admiral Halsey struck toward Munda, on New Georgia Island in the Central Solomons. Because the Navy's next step up the "ladder of the Solomons" moved across the demarcation line separating the zone of General MacArthur's authority from Admiral Halsey's, General MacArthur assumed command and immediately commenced issuing a coördinated communiqué. Actually, however, the two moves were far apart and coincided only as to timing and air operations. The Solomons fighting, which initially made much more progress than the New Guinea offensive against Salamaua, was planned and carried out by Admiral Halsey's headquarters.
The naval landings were made first on Rendova Island, off Munda, then on New Georgia itself. Australian troops, with American air support, closed in gradually through the terrible New Guinea swamps and jungles upon Salamaua, and American forces landed upon unoccupied Trobriand and Woodlark Islands to hew air bases out of the jungle within closer range of Rabaul. The progress in New Guinea was by inches; but Munda airfield on New Georgia Island, our principal objective there, was in our hands after some six weeks of jungle war. Bairoka Harbor, however, a nest of Jap resistance, was still holding out as these lines were written. In August our forces by-passed the enemy base of Vila on Kolombangara Island, just north of New Georgia, and using our sea superiority to advantage landed on the enemy-held island of Vellalavella. From two directions we were getting closer and closer to Rabaul, the key enemy base in the south Pacific area; but we still were beyond easy fighter plane range, and our progress, though much faster than that in the Guadalcanal campaign, was still painfully slow.
Two factors greatly aided us in the South Pacific. We had established clear-cut sea superiority, which the Japanese refused to challenge seriously by use of their heavy units (battleships and carriers); and we maintained a marked air superiority. But the jungle and the willingness of the enemy to die held us back, as did some of our own mistakes. At Munda, we apparently again underestimated the strength required to wipe out the enemy, thus lengthening the campaign. There were supply difficulties, too, some of them not well solved. In addition, the dual command set-up in the South Pacific, with Admiral Halsey under General MacArthur, but also under Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Fleet, certainly left something to be desired.[iii]
In the North Pacific, it will be recalled, we had reconquered Attu in May. We followed it up during the summer months by blockading Kiska and subjecting it to continuous pounding from the air and from naval guns. The bombardment reached a climax in the first two weeks in August. But when our Army and Navy forces, with some Canadians, made an amphibious landing on the beaches of Kiska on August 15, prepared for a desperate battle, they found that the entire Japanese garrison of some 8,500-10,000 men had been evacuated. Apparently the evacuation had been accomplished gradually over a period of weeks under cover of night and fog. Despite our great naval and air superiority in the area, we had known nothing about it. The bloodless capture of Kiska, though in a material sense favorable, made us look decidedly silly.
We did not wait for the reconquest of Kiska, however, to transform our defensive position in the Aleutians into an offensive one. Three times during the summer long-range Liberator Bombers of the Eleventh United States Army Air Force flew 765 miles over open water to reconnoiter and to bomb the Japanese naval and air installations on and around the island of Paramushiru, in the Northern Kuriles. The bombing formations were small -- about nine planes at a maximum -- and they apparently damaged the enemy only slightly; but they gathered valuable information and served notice of attacks to come.
Throughout the entire Pacific area the forces of the United States have been gaining greatly in military strength. We -- not Japan -- are profiting by time. The attrition suffered by Japanese shipping as a result of attacks by our submarines and planes has been serious. There is some evidence, too, that the Tenth and Fourteenth Air Forces, operating from India and China, and the Fifth and Thirteenth, operating from Australia and the Solomons, have been inflicting air losses upon the Japanese enemy almost as fast as he could replace them.
Although major moves in the Pacific -- perhaps in Burma, perhaps in China, perhaps in the South and Central Pacific, perhaps in all areas -- are plainly being prepared, they have not yet begun. We still are thousands of miles from Tokyo.
As the foregoing brief summary discloses, military operations during the summer just ended have progressed more and more favorably for the United Nations. But political factors have dampened greatly the enthusiasm we have a right to feel over our military successes. Unless certain political difficulties are solved they may rob us of some of the fruits of victory. One astute observer has even suggested that as our military power increases in Europe our political influence declines, because we have made our military commitment to our allies before we asked them to make their political commitment to us. This may have been due to the fact that our leaders were too busy with military problems to give political problems proper attention, or because our system of government did not permit them to postulate a definite postwar program of collaboration and take the first steps to give it effect.
As these lines are written, Mr. Roosevelt and Mr. Churchill have just been meeting at Quebec with their staffs to discuss political as well as military strategy. The tenuous relationship of Russia with Britain and America presents the major problem. It is not too much to say that Russia holds the key to the successful outcome of this war and to the peace of the postwar world. What can we do to persuade her to use it aright, in coöperation with us and not against us? Our relations with the French National Committee of Liberation present another problem, the future of Italy a third, and there are a host of others.
Americans have long been accused of indifference to international problems. But it was thought that today, after the experiences of two world wars, we had come of age. The question of whether or not there will be, can be, an era of tranquillity and peace after this war will be settled before it ends. We owe it to ourselves to find a way to adopt a reasoned position on the problems that face us, to state it, to stick to it, and to win the respect and support of our Allies for it.
[i] The President, in a cable of congratulation to General Eisenhower, stated that the enemy garrison had been 405,000; but this was much larger than estimates emanating from North Africa.
[iii] Casualty figures for these South Pacific campaigns have not been published. The United States lost the transport McCawley and the destroyer Strong in the initial landings near New Georgia, and subsequently lost the cruiser Helena and the destroyer Gwin in a series of naval actions with Japanese task forces. The enemy, however, suffered greater losses, from our surface naval units and from air attack, though probably not as great as the figures we claimed. In August, at the great Japanese airfield of Wewak in New Guinea, our fliers caught 225 enemy planes on the ground (apparently preparing for a surprise stroke) and, according to General MacArthur's communiqué, practically wiped out the entire force. Japanese communiqués made large claims during the summer, though not quite up to their usual scale of extravagance. Some of our own communiqués from the South Pacific have, perhaps, an unconscious tendency toward exaggeration. Our greatest enemy in this area continues to be the jungle and malaria. Casualties from disease are still far higher than those from battle.