How a Great Power Falls Apart
Decline Is Invisible From the Inside
THE United States ended two years of war confident that the last phase of the struggle in Europe was starting. The protracted retreat of the German Army on the eastern front, the increasing tempo of Allied air raids on the Reich, the continuing failure of the German submarine war, the invasion and collapse of Italy, and particularly the Moscow conference justified that assumption. The Moscow Declaration that Britain, Russia and the United States would fight the war to unconditional surrender weakened Germany's hope of retrieving victory from defeat by political means. Specifically, the better understanding which the three Powers achieved there must have ended any idea she may have nourished that she could negotiate a separate peace with Russia. Since in addition it prepared the way for the international collaboration of the three Powers it must have dampened Germany's longer-range hopes also.
The last chapter nevertheless may be a long one. The end of the second year of war brings no evidence that Germany's military power has been broken. As Prime Minister Winston Churchill warned, the climactic year of 1944 is likely to be somber and bloody.
The great advance of the Red Armies on the eastern front was the most important event of the summer and fall of 1943, and as these lines were written it was continuing, though against stiffening opposition. Between July and late November the Russians reoccupied about 140,000 square miles of their own territory. The battle lines were approaching the pre-1939 Russian frontiers. Despite months of campaigning and great losses the Red Army evidently still possessed great offensive power.
Most of the credit for the Russian successes in the greatest campaigns in military history is Russian alone. Stalin has fashioned the Soviet states into a mighty machine for making war. The operations assigned this machine have often been prodigal in lives. But they have been effective because all the national energies of the Russian people were harnessed to a single end, and because no sacrifice was considered too great to achieve it.
The fact remains that the Russian victories of 1943 would not have been possible without aid from Britain and the United States. Lend-lease supplies, particularly in the category of automotive vehicles, gave the Russian Army much of its mobility, and American and British planes -- many of them flown into Russia by various routes -- helped materially in giving the Red pilots air superiority for the first time since the Russian campaign started. Shipments of lend-lease goods to Russia from the United States amounted to $3,287,047,000 by the end of September 1943, and of this total more than half had been shipped in the first nine months of 1943. The planes numbered 6,500. Among the other military items sent from the United States were 3,000 tanks, 125,000 sub-machine guns, 145,000 trucks, 25,000 jeeps, 200,000 field telephones and 700,000 miles of telephone wire. British shipments to Russia of vehicles, tanks, guns, ammunition, aircraft and industrial and naval supplies had reached the value of £179,000,000 by June 30, 1943. This figure is exclusive of the heavy expenses of delivery and convoy and also of the value of the large quantites of food, clothing and other civilian supplies sent to Russia on a credit system without any definite term for repayment. American and British food helped keep Russia from starving and American and British factories gave the Red Army some of its offensive punch.
But American and British aid to Russia was more important than even these figures indicate. Direct military intervention by the Allies on the battlefields of Europe diverted strong German forces from the Russian front, greatly weakened the German war potential and certainly was a vital factor in making it impossible for the Nazis to retain their hold on much of the richest Russian territory. The impossibility of measuring the effect of the Allied air raids on Germany and the Allied invasion of Italy in terms of miles gained by the Red Army has led certain elements in the United States to say that those operations were unimportant strategically. From the start, American Communists and fellow-travellers have been in the habit of belittling the American and British military effort. It seems time now to record that the Russian campaigns of the summer and fall of 1943 supplied direct evidence that the Allied operations in southern and western Europe had created a major diversion for Russia. The invasion and defeat of Italy forced Hitler to concentrate 20 to 25 divisions in that country. He also was compelled to reënforce the German divisions in the Balkans and to utilize for Balkan garrison duties the Hungarian and Rumanian units which otherwise would have been in action on the Russian front. How many German divisions the Allied operations actually drew away from the eastern front is not yet clear, probably not more than 5 or at the most 20. Our forces in Italy identified one or two crack German units which had been brought there from Russia. The important point to remember is that the majority of the enemy reënforcements sent to Italy and the Balkans probably were shifted from France or other occupied territories, and in turn were replaced from Germany's strategic reserve, thus restricting her ability to reënforce the Russian front. By December that strategic reserve was quite small.
The effect of the Allied air raids on western Europe was even more pronounced. These raids became so serious that Germany had to withdraw the bulk of her fighter planes from the eastern front. In consequence, our bombers in their raids over Europe in the latter half of 1943 faced two to three times as many German fighters as the Red Army encountered on the entire Russian front. In addition, units of the Luftwaffe were shifted from Russia to the Mediterranean. These shifts in German air power, in conjunction with the delivery of American and British planes to Russia as part of lend-lease aid, enabled the Russians during 1943 to secure air superiority except in localized sectors where the Nazis thought it important to make a great temporary effort. Thus it is fair to say that two of the important factors in the German retreat in Russia in 1943 -- German air weakness in that theater and lack of German reserves -- were the direct effect of Allied efforts. Nor can a third effect be ignored, though it was less direct and obvious. The bombardment of Germany without any question decreased her war potential, limited and in certain cases sharply curtailed her industrial output, damaged her communications, hampered her transportation and had devastating effects on the morale of her population. All this diminished the Reichswehr's strategic mobility and kept out of the hands of the German soldiers many weapons which they would otherwise have had at their disposal in fighting the Russian armies.
These contributions of the United States and Britain to Russia's victorious campaign during the summer and fall months have been dealt with here at some length, first because they often are glossed over; second, because without taking them into account we cannot arrive at a clear picture of the strategy of the war in Europe; third, because the Russian front indubitably remains of surpassing importance, and whatever has affected it and continues to affect it is of strategic significance.
The climax of Allied operations in the Mediterranean came on September 3 with the collapse of Italy. The Badoglio Government, which assumed power when the "Sawdust Caesar" was deposed by a palace revolution on July 25, did not wait for the end of the 38-day Sicilian campaign to ask for the terms of surrender. After protracted negotiations, an armistice was signed on September 3, the very day British troops of the Eighth Army (General Sir Bernard L. Montgomery commanding) were ferried across the Strait of Messina to land on the Calabrian "toe" of Italy. The terms of the armistice, though not yet made public, evidently involved the cessation of all Italian fighting against the Allies, the surrender of as much of the Italian fleet as possible, Italy's adherence as a "co-belligerent" to the Allied cause, and the use of Italian troops against the Germans.
No major American units took part in the relatively small-scale invasion of Calabria across the Strait of Messina. But early in the morning of September 9, six days later, and 12 hours or so after the announcement of the Italian armistice (it was signed on September 3, but public announcement was delayed to secure the greatest military advantage), a combined Anglo-American army landed on the sandy shores of the Gulf of Salerno, some 30 to 35 miles below Naples. Lieutenant-General Mark Wayne Clark commanded this army, which, although it was known as the Fifth American Army, was composed almost equally of British and American divisions. Salerno was selected because it was the only practical landing beach within fighter range (extreme fighter range, at that) of Allied air bases in Sicily and extreme southern Italy. It had apparently been hoped that merely Italian coast defense troops would be encountered and that these would offer no great resistance. But Germans had replaced the Italians some days before, perhaps because of a "leak" in the Allied plans but more likely because obviously the Salerno beaches were the only possible place, south of Rome, where a landing was practicable. Apparently, also, the Allies miscalculated the strength of the German forces south of Rome and their ability to concentrate quickly.
What happened is now history. The Allied strategic plan involved some risk, since the landing was at the extreme range of fighter aircraft. Also, the Germans are an alert enemy and the terrain of most of Italy is mountainous. We were too sanguine in our hopes. The landing of the Eighth Army in Calabria -- and subsequently at Taranto and Brindisi on the Italian "heel" -- was intended to draw German units into southern Italy. The troops landed at Salerno, much further north, would be able, it was hoped, to slice across the peninsula and cut those German troops off.
But at Salerno the Germans had the great advantage of holding the wooded and precipitous heights around a saucer-shaped beach; their guns could fire downward into our concentrations and could command some of our landing places. There followed a battle which is rightly called "bloody Salerno." It was probably the hardest struggle in which American troops have yet been engaged in the European phase of this war, and one which we nearly lost. The vestigial glories of great empires of the past formed a picturesque setting for the bitter and costly action. "G.I.'s" bivouaced literally in marble halls and amid the ruined columns of Paestum, and their course toward Naples led them over the beautiful Sorrentine peninsula and past Pompeii and Herculaneum.
The British units which landed were on the northern flank, the American on the southern. At the start, the German defenses pinned them to the beaches and foothills. Then came a surging enemy counterattack which almost swept them into the sea. Initially, however, the situation of the Allied forces did not seem serious. The first waves were able to get ashore and a giant armada of 500 landing craft, warships and merchantmen anchored in the Gulf of Salerno or plied about its smooth waters.
As in previous operations in the Mediterranean, General Sir Harold R. L. G. Alexander commanded all British and American land forces. His was the strategic command, however; General Clark was in immediate control. Admiral of the Fleet, Sir Andrew Cunningham, Naval Commander-in-Chief in the Mediterranean under General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander, also exercised a strategic command; in immediate charge of naval operations was Vice Admiral H. Kent Hewitt, U.S.N., with his flag in U.S.S. Ancon. His Western Task Force, as it was called, was divided into two main groups -- the Southern Attack Force, under Rear Admiral John L. Hall, Jr., U.S.N., with his flag in the U.S.S. Samuel Chase, and the Northern Attack Force, under Commodore G. N. Oliver, R.N., who flew his broad penant in H.M.S. Hilary. Rear Admiral Richard L. Conolly, U.S.N., with his flag in U.S.S. Biscayne, although senior in rank to Commodore Oliver, volunteered to serve, and did serve, as a Task Group Commander under Commodore Oliver. The Southern Attack Force landed United States troops and their supplies on the beaches from the south bank of the Sele River to Agropoli; the Northern Attack Force landed British troops and their supplies from the north bank of the Sele to a point about three miles southeast of the town of Salerno.
These attack forces, with their great flotillas of transports and landing craft, were in turn protected and supported by a very large covering force of battleships, aircraft carriers and destroyers, known as "Force H," under the command of Vice Admiral Sir Algernon U. Willis, R.N. "Force H," entirely composed of British Naval Ships, included two large aircraft carriers, the Illustrious and the Formidable, the new battleship Howe and the Nelson and Rodney. Originally other ships had been assigned; but when the Italian fleet surrendered they were withdrawn to cover the Italian sortie from Spezia and to provide support for the British occupation of Taranto.
"Force H" also was entrusted with the task of providing fighter cover for the "Air Support Force" of the Royal Navy, under Rear Admiral Sir Philip Vian. This force consisted of three British cruisers and five auxiliary (converted) aircraft carriers, sometimes called escort carriers. These carriers provided the planes -- fighters, dive bombers and other types -- which covered and supported the initial landings, and were in turn protected by fighters flown off the Illustrious and Formidable. This seemingly complicated arrangement was necessary because Salerno was, as previously mentioned, at extreme range for single-engined fighters operating from our Sicilian land bases. The naval air support, little mentioned in the contemporary accounts of Salerno, was undoubtedly a major factor in the success of what proved to be a touch-and-go operation.
The guns of three United States cruisers -- the Philadelphia, Savannah and Boise -- and of some 18 United States destroyers, in addition to many smaller combatant craft and great numbers of mine sweepers, gave close support to the landings. There was some difficulty in locating enemy shore batteries. However, a message sent five hours after "H-hour" on "D-day" by an American general ashore to the commander of the fire support unit epitomized the general effectiveness of the naval fire: "Thank God for the . . . Navy ships. Probably could not have stuck out on Blue and Yellow beaches. Stout fellows. Please tell them so."
The naval vessels in the first and subsequent days of the disembarkation indeed provided a tremendous volume of fire support, ranging in size from machine gun ammunition to 15-inch shells. The Philadelphia fired a total of 2,946 rounds of 6-inch and 1,161 rounds of 5-inch while the operation lasted, and the destroyer Bristol fired a total of 900 rounds from her main batteries. In the northern sector alone, 135 mines were swept up or exploded in the first four days. Future analyses of the Salerno battle will probably support the preliminary finding that naval gun fire and air support saved the day.
The crisis came in the days September 13 to 16. Up until then we had developed our initial landings, smashed through the Axis beach defenses (though with considerable casualties), fought off Axis air attacks and deepened and widened our beachhead. But we had not been able to win more than toeholds in the high ground which dominated the Salerno "saucer." The German counterattack, which we had been desperately trying to forestall, almost rolled the Allied forces back into the sea.
General Clark has said that the situation at Salerno was never desperate. In retrospect it does seem likely that A.F.H.Q. in Algiers viewed it overanxiously. Nevertheless, the situation was serious, serious enough to warrant a comparison between Salerno and Gallipoli. In some sectors both Americans and British were pressed back to the beaches -- almost to the water's edge. The casualties were heavy, and for a time the British and American forces were almost cut off from each other. The naval armada offshore, however, opened up with everything it had; carrier-based planes were active; and the Northwest African Air Force on September 14 flew 1,888 sorties over the battle area -- more than one a minute -- and dropped an average of nine-tenths of a ton of bombs on the German positions every minute. That day and the next saw the Nazi tide stemmed and led to the enemy retreat.
The battle was not won by any one arm alone. It was won only by the most careful coördination of each service with the other, and the most complete teamwork of each Navy and the troops of each nation with the Navy and troops of its ally. The cost was high, probably higher to the British than to the Americans, for the British -- contrary to the impression of most Americans -- had as many men at Salerno as the Americans did and held an even hotter sector. Ships were damaged and sunk, some of them by the Germans' new weapon, the controlled glide bomb (one of which is believed to have sunk the Italian battleship Roma as she was escaping to Malta). Losses in matériel were heavy.
We learned bitter lessons in the school of bloody experience. One of them was the necessity of getting tanks ashore in the early stages of a landing. Another was the old, old lesson -- so often repeated in this war -- of the absolute necessity of competent leadership. An American Corps Commander and several general officers and colonels were relieved in action and some of them were demoted. We learned the need for quicker decision. A large force of heavy bombers was detached from the Eighth Air Force in Britain and sent all the way to the Mediterranean to assist at Salerno; but they arrived in the theater after the crisis of the battle was past. We learned again what had always been known but can easily be forgotten -- the immense difficulty of making good a foothold on a shore strongly held by a determined foe.
Once the beachhead had been made good, General Clark's forces joined hands across southern Italy with the small Eighth Army forces which had pushed up the heel and toe of Italy against slight German opposition. The Nazis not only eluded the trap we had set for them, but almost baited it for us. They had suffered heavy casualties, however; they had failed to eliminate our beachhead; and, pivoting on the Sorrentine peninsula, they swung back their Adriatic Sea flank and commenced a slow and fighting retreat to and beyond Naples. Naples was captured on October 1 after considerable difficulties, but the water-front facilities had been thoroughly blasted by bombs and demolitions and the harbor was a tangle of wrecked shipping. The water supply of the city had also been destroyed and the inhabitants were starving. We began to experience both the liabilities and the assets of conquest.
On September 27 the nexus of important airfields at Foggia was captured. With these and other air bases in our possession, as well as a major port of great potential importance, the immediate issue was not any longer in much doubt. Our strategic objectives had been accomplished.
There followed a slow and wearing struggle up the spiny ridge of the Appennines toward Rome. All roads lead to Rome, but all of them in September and October and November of 1943 were mined, mired in mud and bracketed by the fire of German 88's. The Nazis fought strong delaying actions, gradually bolstering their forces in southern Italy until by late November they had 10 (perhaps 11) divisions in line or in immediate reserve. In November, the enemy defense stiffened very considerably along the line of the Garigliano and Sangro rivers in an area where jutting mountains shoulder the sea, and where climate and terrain are among the bleakest and toughest in all Italy.
The American forces participating in the Italian campaign included the Thirty-sixth and Forty-fifth Infantry Divisions, and the Germans have announced that some American armored units and airborne troops, plus the Third Division, had been in line against them. In addition to these, and probably other American forces, three British corps have been publicly announced as serving in Italy, one with the Fifth Army, two with the Eighth, a total of eight or nine British divisions.
Progress in Italy at the time of writing is slow and may so continue. Weather, terrain and unexpectedly heavy enemy resistance are in part responsible. It is also true, however, that the strategic spotlight in Europe is shifting, that the Mediterranean is becoming a secondary theater. We therefore are trying to accomplish our remaining objectives in Italy (the immediate one is undoubtedly to capture Rome) with the utmost economy of force, so that our main effort elsewhere will not be reduced in strength.
The principal strategic objectives of the Allies in the Mediterranean were three: (1) the conquest of North Africa and the opening of the Mediterranean to Allied shipping; (2) the elimination of Italy from the war; (3) the seizure of Italian air bases for use in an air offensive against southern Germany. The capture of Foggia and Naples meant that all of these objectives had been achieved. What remained to be done in Italy was aftermath and to some extent anticlimax.
The first remaining objective -- psychological and political rather than military -- was the capture of Rome. A longer-range objective was, by maintaining the offensive against the German forces in Italy, to occupy and divert as much German strength as possible from other theaters. No major invasion of the Balkans was indicated; but support of the guerrilla armies already operating there could intensify Germany's problem and compel the diversion to that area of additional bodies of troops.
The objectives in the Mediterranean have been accomplished with very moderate losses so far as the United States is concerned. Figures for previous campaigns have already been given in this series of articles in FOREIGN AFFAIRS.[i] In the Italian campaign, United States Army casualties from the beginning of the invasion to November 25, 1943, numbered 1,613 killed, 6,361 wounded, 2,685 missing, a total of 10,659. Naval losses have likewise been quite moderate. The destroyer Rowan was sunk on September 11, apparently off Salerno, and the destroyers Bristol, Buck and Beatty were sunk later by mines, torpedoes or air attacks. One naval tug and a minesweeper have also been reported sunk since the invasion of Italy started. Some merchant ships may have been sunk (their losses are often not announced by name), and the cruiser Savannah and other vessels were damaged.
The strategic balance sheet in the Mediterranean is overwhelmingly in the Allied favor.
Another offensive, of a different sort from the Mediterranean campaigns but perhaps even more effective, reached a climax in western Europe in the fall of 1943. In collaboration with the R.A.F., the Eighth United States Air Force, Lieutenant-General Ira C. Eaker commanding, based on Britain, greatly intensified the scope and scale of its raids against the Reich. In certain months of the summer and fall those "raids" led to great air battles -- the greatest, perhaps, since the Battle of Britain three years previously. September was the peak, so far, of the American effort in 1943: a greater tonnage of bombs was dropped with smaller relative loss than in any previous month. The following table indicates the scale of daylight bombing by the Eighth Air Force during three crucial months:
For a time, in this period, there seemed to be a weakening of the German air defense. But of that there was no certainty. And our own effort fell off markedly, though temporarily, both in the depth to which Germany was penetrated and in frequency of major raids, after the serious losses in the October 14 raid against the Schweinfurt roller-bearing factory.[ii] Sixty United States bombers were lost in combat on that one raid, and probably at least an equal number were lost operationally or were severely damaged. The damage done to the Schweinfurt plant was officially said to be worth the cost. But apparently there was a growing recognition in the United States and Britain as the year ended that air bombardment alone would not be enough to give the coup de grâce to Germany. Cologne was raided for the one hundred twenty-second time in this period. Either it had not been as thoroughly destroyed as had been previously indicated, or else the Germans have remarkable recuperative powers.
Air bombardment nevertheless was having a steady attrition effect upon the moral and physical strength of Germany, and this effect was mounting as American air strength in Britain increased and as R.A.F. night raids became more frequent and more accurate. Some of our technical problems were being solved. Lockheed Lightnings and Republic Thunderbolts, equipped with detachable gas tanks, flew on many of the shallow-penetration raids all the way to the target and back, thus providing excellent cover for the bombers and greatly reducing our losses. The air operations also began to clamp Germany in an air pincers from two sides, with the attacks of the newly created Fifteenth Air Force, based on Mediterranean fields, joining those of the Eighth Air Force, based on Britain.
These air raids, heavy and frequent though they were, were certain to be greatly stepped up in tempo and weight as the winter progressed. For the air plan was entering another phase, and the strategy of the Allies was clearly focusing on western Europe. Shifts in high commands in United States Air Forces around the world, the creation of a Tactical Air Force in Britain to supply close support for an invading Army, the unannounced appointment of General George C. Marshall, Army Chief of Staff, to command a western European invasion, all indicated that Britain was now to be the base for the main Allied effort. This meant that the air attack upon western Europe was certain to reach a new crescendo of fury in the new year.
The air attack plainly is envisaged now not as supplying a knockout blow to Germany but as a means of softening her up for an invasion across the Channel. Since the beginning of the war the majority of American senior officers have felt that a cross-Channel invasion was, all things considered, the best and most sure way to bring Germany to her knees. They considered the Mediterranean operations and the air offensive as "softening" and diversionary operations preliminary to that one end. Those operations have been successful and may yield still more success. But the greatest task, the most formidable operation in American military history and probably in British military history, still remains to be accomplished. The invasion of western Europe is the capstone of our entire strategy. If it fails -- and it can fail -- we are undone. The war is not yet won.
On still another front -- the sea front -- Germany felt Allied might during the late summer and fall. Her submarine campaign, its backbone broken in the spring and summer months, continued to be ineffective. Ship sinkings were low during this period; in certain weeks and months they were negligible. But German submarine losses were high -- at the rate of at least one every couple of days. The 60 Nazi submarines destroyed in the Atlantic during August, September and October exceeded the number of Allied merchantmen sunk in that period. Of these 60 submarines, 27 were sunk by American forces, 33 by British with Canadian assistance. United States Navy carrier-based aircraft accounted for 21 of the 27 submarines sunk by us. Destroyers sank two; a Navy long-range patrol plane sank one; a destroyer and carrier-based plane sank another; an Army plane sank one; and an Army plane and Navy plane teamed up to get the twenty-seventh. Admiral Royal E. Ingersoll, Commander of the Atlantic Fleet, one of the unsung leaders and organizers of this war, deserves much of the credit for this fine showing.
Good news also came from the South and Southwest Pacific areas during the fall. Our two-pronged offensive which started against Japanese New Guinea and Solomon bases in June had progressed by November to a landing on Bougainville Island in the northern Solomons, only 250 miles south of Rabaul, the key Japanese base in the area. The last Japanese nest of resistance in the New Georgia group, Bairoka Harbor, was finally abandoned by the enemy on August 28. We occupied Vila, on Kolombangara Island, on October 11, after the Japanese line of communications had been cut by our prior move into Vellalavella. The Bougainville landing at a point on the west coast above the southernmost Japanese garrison came on November 1, after a prior landing on Treasury Island on October 26, and a feint -- in the form of a raid by a Marine Raider battalion -- against minor Japanese positions on Choiseul.
While these advances were being made by Admiral William F. Halsey's forces up the "ladder" of the Solomons, General Douglas MacArthur (who coördinated the Solomons and New Guinea operations) sent his Australians and Americans through the New Guinea jungles toward Salamaua, Lae and Finschafen. By a series of heavy bombardments, the use of air and sea transport, the employment of parachute troops and amphibious operations, the Allied forces had captured Salamaua, Lae, Finschafen, Sattelberg and all the Gulf of Huon area in New Guinea by the end of November, and were pushing on toward other Japanese outposts and the important Japanese base at Madang.[iii]
The operations against Madang, however, progressed slowly, and while Australian patrols [iv] were pushing their way through the terrible jungles, MacArthur threw most of his air force in repeated raids at Rabaul and adjacent bases, to support the Solomons operations. A number of these raids resulted in claims so high that they must be put down as extravagant. Indeed, many of the claims of enemy losses -- particularly air losses -- received from the southwest Pacific have borne the earmarks of exaggeration. Nevertheless, the Japanese did suffer heavy blows. Navy carrier task forces joined in the "strikes" at Rabaul in November, and by the middle of that month some spokesmen in Washington were saying that the Japanese position there had become untenable. But that still remained to be proven. It seemed improbable.
During the fall, the complaints that General MacArthur and the southwest Pacific were receiving only a small percentage of American overseas war material, that General MacArthur did not have men enough for a large offensive, and so on, had become almost routine. Now, however, they were voiced by members of General MacArthur's staff. General MacArthur implied the same thing himself. These continued statements have served only to confuse the people and to prejudice General MacArthur's own case.
There is no doubt whatsoever that today General MacArthur's forces are far, far stronger in relation to the enemy forces opposed to them than they were a year ago. He now has a ground army (Americans and Australians combined) not much smaller in size than the Allied army fighting in Italy. If the ground forces under Admiral Halsey are included, the total is very considerably larger than the entire Allied Expeditionary Force in Italy. He has quite a sizeable air force (though not by European standards), and if the size of the naval forces directly under his command were known the average American would be surprised. The Pacific Fleet itself, of course, is directly under Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, with headquarters at Pearl Harbor (and rightly). The statements coming from the South Pacific can mean only one thing: that General MacArthur is dissatisfied with the strategic plan for the war as a whole and for the Pacific in particular, and with the rôle assigned to him and to his forces. He wants to make the main effort; he does not want to assume a secondary rôle.
That there is a good chance that the main American effort will be made in other areas of the Pacific was shown by the increasing tempo of events in the Central Pacific during the late summer and fall. A series of carrier task force raids were made -- chiefly with new carriers built and commissioned since the war -- against Marcus and Wake Islands, then against islands in the Gilbert group. On September 4 marines occupied the little island of Nanumea in the Ellice group without opposition. From this island (presumably), and from previously occupied Funafuti in the same group, a series of raids by land-based Army and Navy bombers was carried out against Japanese-held Nauru island, Tarawa and Makin in the Gilbert group, and Jaluit, Maloelap and Mali atolls in the Marshall Islands. At the same time, the duties of Lieutenant-General Robert C. Richardson, Jr., Commanding Army forces in Hawaii, were broadened to include command of all Army forces in the Central Pacific. And Admiral Nimitz warned the Japanese that new blows were about to be struck in new areas. Plainly a major strategic offensive in the Pacific was about to start, perhaps from humble beginnings.
By November 20, this offensive had already begun. Carrier task forces hammered at Nauru and Tarawa, adding tons of bombs to those dropped by the land-based Liberators from Nanumea and Funafuti. The first major blows against Japan's "unsinkable aircraft carriers" -- the islands of Micronesia -- were dealt by carefully coördinated United States forces, and a new strategy, which would by-pass to some extent the malarial jungles of the South Pacific and strike more directly toward Japan, was being implemented.
This new strategy came to its first fruition on November 21 when Marines and Army troops landed on Makin and Tarawa atolls in the Gilberts and shortly thereafter on Abemama atoll. The operation was under the supreme command of Vice Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, chief of a new central Pacific Command. The Second Marine Division (veterans of Guadalcanal) and the Twenty-Seventh Division (formerly New York National Guard) made the landings and captured the atolls within 76 hours. They were supported by the largest naval task force yet assembled in the Pacific. The fighting on Tarawa was described as the bitterest in the history of the Marine Corps, and casualties in the assault battalions were very heavy. In absolute terms, however, our losses were light. And we had taken successfully the first step on a new road to Tokyo.
At the same time continental operations against Japan were slowly starting. Lord Mountbatten, newly appointed Supreme Allied Commander in Southeast Asia, concluded a series of organizing and policy conferences during the fall, and set up his staff. Although the composition of the staff was not officially announced three Americans were known to have prominent rôles. Lieutenant-General Joseph Stilwell apparently is to have a major ground command under Lord Mountbatten; Major-General Albert C. Wedemeyer is Deputy Chief of Staff; and Major-General George E. Stratemeyer a senior air commander.
Despite the end of the monsoon season and intensified activity by the Fourteenth United States Air Force in China and the Tenth in India, the time for major operations in Burma still appeared to be some months off. Great supply and organizational problems remained to be solved; there is perhaps no area in the world so difficult from the supply point of view as the Asiatic theater. But minor operations were starting; Chinese-trained and equipped troops provided the cover in northern Burma for engineers hacking the so-called "Ledo Road" from Assam into Burma out of the trackless jungles of the region. And the increased tempo of air attacks upon Akyab indicated that that port and airfield, objective of an abortive British campaign last year, might again be one of the first goals of Allied forces in the months before the monsoon again starts next May.
As the year 1943 approaches its end the global strategic picture is more encouraging than at any time since the United States entered the war. Everywhere the United Nations have the initiative; everywhere the enemy is suffering defeat. Nowhere as yet, however, have the defeats been decisive. The enemy still is strong. If the war in Europe is to end in 1944, Britain and the United States probably will have to cap their entire strategical effort by a successful cross-Channel invasion. That is a venture which can, but must not, fail. It will usher in hard and bloody fighting. In the Pacific, the major strategic offensive which the Allies are now starting will assume weight and impetus during 1944. Its progress should determine in large measure the duration of the Pacific phase of the war. 1944 will indeed be a climactic year.
[i] Cf. "America at War: Three Bad Months," April 1942; "America at War: The Second Quarter," July 1942; "America at War: The First Year," January 1943; "America at War: December 1942-May 1943," July 1943; and "America at War: Summer 1943," October 1943.
[ii] The relative lull of late October and early November was broken late in November by a series of heavy and intense day and night attacks.
[iii] Our own losses in the South Pacific fighting were not high. No personnel casualty figures for this area have been announced; malaria, however, was still the main enemy. From August through November 20 the announced naval losses in the Pacific area were two destroyers -- the Chevalier and the Henley -- one naval transport, four submarines and one tug.
[iv] The principal burden of the land fighting in New Guinea has been borne by the Australians. The Seventh and Ninth Australian Divisions have been in action there, and the Thirty-second, and more recently, the Forty-first American divisions. A contingent of American parachute troops also aided in the Salamaua-Lae-Finschafen campaign. But the greater part of the land fighting has been done by Australians, with the Americans assuming the major burden in the air. In the South Pacific, the Twenty-fifth Division (United States) was publicly identified as participating in the Munda operations. A New Zealand division and other Army and Marine units have also been engaged in the Solomons fighting. The jungle fighting has developed many new techniques and modifications of old weapons. Flame throwers and bazoukas have been found useful against Jap coconut-log pillboxes. Bulldozers have been used to clear fields of fire to those pillboxes. Mortars, including the 4.2-inch mortar (once identified only as a chemical weapon but now widely used for other purposes) have been modified to permit direct fire. Camouflage suits are now worn almost universally.