The Day After Russia Attacks
What War in Ukraine Would Look Like—and How America Should Respond
FOR the American forces in Europe the winter just past was a time of dogged though indecisive fighting, but even more a time of preparation, a preface to the great campaigns of 1944. In the Pacific, the major strategic offensive by the United States which started with our move into the Gilbert Islands in November recorded its first great advance in February with the capture of the Marshall Islands, an operation which will long be studied as a model of amphibious action.
Despite the continued military gains registered by the United Nations, the winter was on the whole marked by anxious anticipation. There was intense propagandistic activity on both sides and much political manœuvring. Although -- or perhaps because -- the military situation in Europe was rapidly drawing to a climax, the political situation was by no means firm. The passage of time made evident that the Moscow and Teheran conferences had not settled the basic political issues which threatened to produce schisms between Britain, Soviet Russia and the United States. Russia's actions during the winter months indicated that she was determined to pursue a "spheres of influence" policy. She did not bar international collaboration. She nevertheless continued to develop two parallel and different foreign policies -- the one based on, or leading toward, coöperation, the other based on, or leading toward, a sort of ideological imperialism. As she showed herself rather intransigent both in word as well as in deed, and as the Russian Armies advanced further toward the West, Britain commenced to cast about for some means to offset this new growing power in Europe. The Smuts speech, carrying implications of a new foreign policy for Britain, was a straw in the wind of official British thinking. To many it suggested that Britain, too, would revert to the prewar policy of regional spheres of influence.
In other words, by the beginning of 1944 power politics was again being "waged" in Europe and rivalries between the United Nations not only threatened the winning of the peace but were influencing military strategy. The rôle assigned the United States seemed to be that of acting as a bridge between Russia and Britain. We were already finding this difficult and thankless, and in the opening phase we had already shown that we were not particularly adept at playing it.
Although the international political picture was in general dark during these months, there came flashes of brighter vistas. For example, the great differences that had for so long marred the work of the French Committee of National Liberation and prevented the creation of a united French movement against Fascism were, by early 1944, in process of gradual resolution. Out of the fires of resentment and argument a French government was coming into being in exile, and on the training grounds of North Africa and the battlefields of Italy a new French Army -- hard-fighting and competent -- was being born.
Not as much could be said of the Italian political situation. Contrary to our wildly exaggerated and over-optimistic expectations, the Italians proved to be of little practical military value.[i] The principal characteristic which marked them was apathy. In the Balkans the political situation was volcanic. Bulgaria, shaken by Allied bombing and connected by Pan-Slavism to Russia, grew more restless with each Russian advance to the West. Hungary, also, was war-weary. Jugoslavia was seething. In Northern Europe, Finland, as these lines were written, was continuing to fight but showed signs that she would welcome any way out of the war short of unconditional surrender and her elimination as a sovereign state.
With the advent of spring, then, and as the time for the climactic operation of our whole European strategy drew near, the Old World seemed to be, politically speaking, in a condition where literally anything might happen. But not merely might political events affect military strategy. Conversely, a sharp military reverse for either side might set political avalanches moving.
It was for reasons such as those indicated, including its influence upon the general political and psychological situation, that the battle of the Anzio-Nettuno beachhead in Italy, which still rages as these lines are written, assumed such importance. Neither side, in a time like the winter of 1943-44, could afford a heavy reverse. For the Allies it would be a severe moral blow, perhaps entailing even a sharp revision of their preconceived grand strategy for 1944 and probably lengthening the war. For the Germans it would add another -- perhaps the final -- straw to the great burden of defeat and retreat which was now exerting a crushing weight on her own shoulders and those of her satellites.
The beachhead battle in the flat coastal land 30 miles south of Rome started as a bold Allied attempt to break the virtual stalemate which had gripped the mountain warfare in Italy since soon after the capture of Naples on October 1, 1943. Initially it was highly successful.
The attempt had seemed long overdue. After our first landings at Salerno many observers had expected us to progress up the Italian coast by a sort of amphibious "leapfrog" procedure, successively outflanking the German positions across the peninsula by means of our control of the sea and our air superiority. But they had reckoned, first, without a continuing shortage of landing craft, which at the beginning of the year 1944 was one of the few material bottlenecks in the Allied armaments program. And they had not considered the campaign in Italy in the perspective of grand Allied strategy. After the capture of Naples and Foggia, and after the Teheran conference of December 1943, Italy became a secondary theater.
Our remaining objectives in Italy were to capture Rome -- of combined political, psychological and military importance -- and to hold down as many German divisions as we could. We were trying to accomplish them with as limited a force as possible. Some officers have criticized this as "piddling." But it was wise, for our main effort was clearly to be made in Western Europe. This does not, however, explain German tactical and technical superiority in various types of operations and in various kinds of weapons, e.g. the "Nebelwerfer," or six-barrelled rocket launcher; it does not explain the misuse and wastage of our highly-trained specialized parachute troops and Rangers; it does not explain our lack of cavalry (we had to improvise some after the start of the campaign), or the use of inadequately trained replacements, or our failure to employ specially trained mountain troops or to use tanks in force in every situation where they could be employed.
After the capture of Naples and a limited advance northward, the Allied advance bogged down in the rain-soaked valleys and snow-crested Apennines along a line roughly paralleling the Garigliano and Sangro Rivers. At the nearest point, this line lay some 80 airline miles from Rome. The Germans took full advantage of the great defensive possibilities of the rugged terrain. They tunneled and dug into the rock, and defied ousting. Their strength in line or in immediate reserve soon amounted to some 10 or 12 divisions. The Allies slowly built up their strength to an estimated 13 to 16 divisions, including one or more French divisions under General Juin which came into action late in 1943.
When the Allies reached the outposts of the main German defensive positions -- called, along a part of the front, the Gustav Line -- they progressed only slowly and painfully, yard by yard, hill by hill. This was the war primarily of the infantryman, the little-glamorized but ever-glorious "doughboy." Hand grenades and bayonets, mortars and light automatic weapons were our principal arms. Our artillery was plentiful, but perhaps because of more precise German knowledge of the terrain it seems to have been less accurate than that of the Germans. Tanks were not used as often or as advantageously as they might have been. The execrable mountain weather of an Apennine winter mired the armies in mud. The battle in those months of November, December, January and February was a struggle of endurance. Divisions stayed in line for weeks on end. Men half-stumbling with fatigue, who had seen most of their officers killed or wounded and a good percentage of their comrades casualties, were "relieved" by other weary men, red-eyed and haggard. When the full history of this war is written, the Battle of Italy may loom as only a small part of a great drama. But in it, even more truly than in North Africa or Sicily, the American soldier was true to his traditions.
The Anzio-Nettuno operation which started on January 22 attempted to break this mountain stalemate and open the road to Rome. It had been planned as long ago as the preceding October but had been delayed primarily because of the shortage of landing craft (there were other reasons also), and secondarily because of the limited forces available. Also, preliminary operations had to be carried out along the Garigliano-Sangro line before the new beachhead could be established.
The British Eighth Army, fighting on the Adriatic flank, forced a crossing of the Sangro in late November and December, and advanced to within 12 miles of Pescara, the terminus of a trans-peninsular highway to Rome. Together the British and Americans won Mignano, reached the banks of the Rapido River in the center, and on the Tyrrhenian Sea flank probed across the Garigliano. But by mid-January the line was still virtually stalemated. On the east flank, the Canadians were bogged down around Arielli; and the Americans were still trying to break into the southern approaches of the Liri Valley, commanded by the mountain town of Cassino.
Five days before the first troops landed near Nettuno, 30 miles south of Rome and just north of the Pontine Marshes, the Allies began a simultaneous attack along the entire Italian front from the Garigliano to Arielli. The Canadian attack on the Adriatic flank was a holding attack; the British struck sharply on the Garigliano, and forced their way across; but the main effort was made by the Americans -- by the 34th and 36th Divisions -- across the Rapido River and toward and around Cassino. This main attack against the so-called Gustav Line made some progress; and to meet it Field Marshal Kesselring, the German commander, transferred to the support of the six German divisions already in line three Nazi divisions which had been in reserve near Rome -- the 3rd, the 29th and the 19th Panzer Grenadier Divisions.
The general Allied attack was accompanied by an air blitz directed at German airfields and communications. It was concentrated in the Rome area, but also extended as far as northern Italy and southern France. This blitz temporarily blocked railroads and some roads leading through Rome toward the southern front, and seems to have put six out of seven Nazi airfields near Rome temporarily out of operation. German headquarters near Frascati were smashed, and when our first troops got ashore near Nettuno, some 50 miles north of the trans-peninsular front, they encountered virtually no opposition.
The beachhead battle developed slowly. Our troops were landed and supplied chiefly across open beaches, for the ports of Anzio and Nettuno, seaside resorts and fishing villages, are tiny. They gradually expanded their beachhead, and pushed inland toward, but not across, the Appian Way, a main supply route of the German forces fighting on the Garigliano-Gustav line in the south. Despite the slight opposition, our movements were sluggish. Apparently no serious attempt was made to cut the Appian Way or to establish positions in the Alban hills inland which would command that important highway. We expanded and consolidated our beachhead, but we made no attempt to use it as a springboard for offensive operations against the enemy's army, his line of communications, or Rome.
Our seeming over-cautiousness in developing our favorable opportunity can be partially explained. In the first place, we were not established in any great strength. According to the Germans, we had built up our strength in the beachhead area to about six divisions by February 10. Secondly, the beachhead was initially intended as a diversionary move, not as the hammer, but the anvil. Our main blow was to come from the south. Our expectation was that our threat to the German rear would force the withdrawal of Nazi units from the Gustav line and thus permit a break-through at Cassino into the Liri Valley. Apparently that break-through was expected to occur shortly after the beachhead was established; at any rate, our attacks on Cassino gained in fierceness at the time our troops went ashore at Nettuno.
The beachhead operation was successful in forcing the Germans to switch some of their strength from the Gustav line to the Anzio-Nettuno area. Elements of the same three divisions that had moved down from Rome, plus units from the front facing the Eighth Army, were pulled back toward Nettuno. But the German command took as few troops as possible out of the Gustav line and the expected break-through there did not occur.
A grim fight ensued both around Cassino and in the Anzio-Nettuno beachhead itself. Americans broke into and took part of the town of Cassino, and edged yard by yard into its shattered buildings in seventeen days of grim fighting; but the Nazis counterattacked continuously. At the beachhead, bad weather handicapped our air power and rendered supply and reënforcement of our troops over the open beaches difficult. At one time, a 60-mile gale roared above the armies locked in combat.
As time went by, the Germans were able to build up their forces opposing our exploitation of the beachhead. First, they "contained" it; then, seizing the initiative, they commenced to attack it. These attacks mounted in scope and intensity. The Germans took back Aprilia and Carroceto, and our beachhead became only ten miles deep. Up to the time of writing, however, our reënforced forces had prevented the enemy from splitting the beachhead in two. On the other hand, we had failed to cut any of the principal German communication lines to the southern front; our entire beachhead area was within range of German artillery; and we were still forced to supply our troops over open beaches, handicapped by wind and weather, under fire of Nazi guns.
This epic struggle reached a peak about February 15 to 21. Despite our air attacks against enemy lines of communication, the Germans succeeded in reënforcing greatly their forces in southern Italy. Some nine divisions of a new German 14th Army under Field Marshal August von Mackensen were concentrated against our beachhead. Nine others, forming the Tenth Army under General Heinrich von Vietinghog, held the Gustav line further south. About this time, New Zealand and Indian divisions were brought into the Cassino front from the Eighth Army flank to support the mauled American divisions in the Fifth Corps. The first attacks of these troops were successful; but German counterattacks then won back most of the gains. At the time of writing the issue was still in doubt.[ii]
These fierce struggles in Italy are clearly of more than local Italian significance. The Germans have had to call upon available reserves to increase their strength in southern Italy; and to match this increase there is little doubt that we were forced to call into action divisions possibly earmarked for other operations. Thus the strategic plans of both sides have been somewhat affected. To both sides a local victory was of great importance. The Germans required one badly for political and psychological reasons, as well as on purely military grounds. The Allies could not afford a reverse on the eve of the invasion of Western Europe. Both sides, therefore, knowing the stakes were high, exerted great efforts. In a sense, the battle in Italy became a test of ultimate strength. Despite our air superiority, there was little doubt that the Nazis could reënforce their forces in the Anzio-Nettuno region faster than we could reënforce ours because of our lack of a good port. Thus, if the Nazis had the divisions to spare, they could hope, in time, to overwhelm us by numbers. If they did not do this it was because their manpower was stretched thin. The Anzio-Nettuno beachhead was a kind of Tobruk. Its dramatic possibilities for either side were still to be fully exploited; and for both sides it held elements of great danger.
The strategy and the tactics of this phase of the Italian campaign invited many questions. First, if we were attempting to conduct the Italian campaign as a secondary operation and did not wish to earmark enough strength for the Anzio-Nettuno beachhead to exploit it properly, why was it attempted at all? Second, once it was attempted, why did we not exploit to the fullest possible extent our early tactical surprise? Why, specifically, did not American troops, at nearly any cost, push across the Appian Way and establish gun positions in the Alban hills? Even though the main effort was to come from the south, through Cassino, even though the Anzio-Nettuno beachhead was intended in large part as a diversion, such a move -- more surely than any other that could have been made -- would have forced the Germans to pull back troops from the Gustav line and would have aided the break-through at Cassino. Third, why was the attack at Cassino made with such limited superiority of force? Why did the Allies wait three to four weeks before switching troops from the static Eighth Army front to assist at Cassino?
In this phase of the Italian battle, there seems to have been a definite lack of boldness, a failure to observe the primary military principle of concentration of effort, and a lack of flexibility, perhaps incident to the changes of command in the Mediterranean and in Italy.
In western Europe the winter period was one of preparation, organization and aerial softening-up.
The long-anticipated changes in the high command to make ready for the forthcoming invasion of Western Europe were announced after the Cairo and Teheran conferences. At one time it had been definitely decided that General George C. Marshall, Army Chief of Staff, was to be appointed as Supreme Allied Commander. The decision to retain him in his post of usefulness in this country was finally made at Cairo, following the Teheran conference. It was based on objections to a shift in General Marshall's position made by high-ranking American military and naval officers as well as by Congress and the public, and also on the fact that no final agreement could be reached with the British as to the scope of his projected power.
In these circumstances, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the successful Supreme Allied Commander in the Mediterranean, was appointed Supreme Allied Commander in Western Europe. Other key appointments were as follows: Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder, Deputy Supreme Commander; General Sir Bernard L. Montgomery, Commander of British ground forces, Western Europe; Lieutenant-General Omar N. Bradley, Senior Commander, U. S. Army ground forces, Western Europe; Air Chief Marshal Trafford L. Leigh-Mallory, Commander of all Allied Expeditionary Air Forces; Major-General William O. Butler, Deputy Air Commander; Air Marshal Sir Arthur Coningham, Commander of British Second Tactical Air Force; Major-General Lewis H. Brereton, Commander of Ninth U. S. Army (Tactical) Air Force; Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay, Naval Commander; Rear Admiral Alan G. Kirk, Commanding U. S. Naval Task Forces in the invasion; Lieutenant-General Carl A. Spaatz, Commander, U. S. Strategic Bomber Forces; Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur T. Harris, Commander British Strategic Air Forces; Major-General James H. Doolittle, Commander, U. S. Eighth Air Force; Major-General William Bedell Smith, Chief of Staff to General Eisenhower.
Other appointments not directly in the invasion forces but of great indirect importance were those of General Sir Harold Edmund Franklin as Commander-in-Chief of British Home Forces and of Air Marshal Sir William Sholto Douglas as Commander of the RAF Coastal Command. Major-General John C. H. Lee, who had headed the U. S. Army supply services in England, was appointed Deputy Theatre Commander, under General Eisenhower, of the European Theatre, a position which put him in charge of all rear area and supply installations.
As a result of these changes the Mediterranean command was also altered. The Eastern and Western theatres were amalgamated under command of General Sir Henry Maitland ("Jumbo") Wilson, while Lieutenant-General Jacob L. Devers, who had formerly commanded in Britain, was appointed his American Deputy. General Sir Harold R. L. G. Alexander was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Central Mediterranean Forces and of all Allied forces in Italy. Lieutenant-General Mark W. Clark continued to command the Anglo-American Fifth Army and Lieutenant-General Sir Oliver Leese took over from General Montgomery the command of the British Eighth Army, operating on the Adriatic flank of the Italian front. Lieutenant-General Ira Eaker, shifted from command of the Eighth Air Force in Britain, assumed command of all air forces in the Mediterranean area, with Air Marshal Sir John C. Slessor, formerly in command of the British Coastal Command, as his deputy. Admiral Sir John H. D. Cunningham, of the British Navy, retained the Mediterranean naval command, with Vice Admiral Henry K. Hewitt, American, in command of American naval forces.
Some of these selections occasioned surprise. It had been generally expected that General Alexander, rather than General Montgomery, would receive the highest British command. But General Montgomery received the command for the same reasons that the Germans chose Field Marshal Erwin Rommel to head the Nazi anti-invasion command. Both have had a great public "build-up," both are popular figures in their own countries, and both have the confidence of the enlisted man. In other words, they were selected for psychological as well as military reasons.
Details of command and organization were being ironed out during the winter. England became a tremendous armed camp as hundreds of thousands of troops and much equipment poured into the island preparatory to the great culminating operation of the European war. It had been generally assumed that the invasion of Western Europe would occur in spring or early summer. But some doubt was cast on this by the February speech of Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and it seemed possible -- at the time of writing -- that massive bombardment of Germany might be continued for some months.
During the winter the bombardment of Europe by Allied planes continued and increased in intensity, despite the bad weather. There were several significant developments:
1. The use of secret bomb-aiming and navigational devices by U. S. Army Air Forces permitted the bombardment of unseen targets through overcasts and clouds. This meant that attacks continued on many winter days when precision bombardment would have been impossible under previous conditions. Occasionally some of these "blind" attacks achieved almost precision results; but in considerable measure the new development meant that American daylight bombers, like British night bombers, were frankly attacking area or city targets.
2. A tremendous increase in the American air strength in Britain permitted raids by 800 or more heavy bombers. For example, 2,000 heavy bombers and escorting fighters struck on February 20 at eight important German centers producing aircraft for the Luftwaffe. February was the biggest month in the history of American air operations over Europe.
3. Our percentage of losses in day bombardments decreased to less than the RAF percentage in night bombardment, due to the great increase in our numerical strength, which was more than the German defenses could match, and the use of long-range escort fighters.
These persistent and furious attacks by day and by night undoubtedly reduced German production, devastated German cities and impaired German morale, but there was no evidence that Germany had been hurt vitally. Although we are probably "over the hump" in the air war, the German air opposition still continues very strong. The figures for American operations in this theater during the winter months were as follows: [iii]
|Tonnage of Bombs Dropped||U. S. Bomber Losses||German Planes Claimed|
|January||11,789 (approx.)||175||545 (?)|
The above figures represent the tonnage dropped by the Bomber Command of the Eighth Air Force and do not include bombing raids made by all the American medium and fighter bombers based in Britain. If these were included, the sorties flown by American planes and the bomb tonnage dropped exceeded, for certain weeks and months during this period, the corresponding figures for RAF aircraft based in Britain. But all statistics for air fighting are liable to considerable error and all statements based on them must be qualified. Different methods of keeping records account for some of the confusion; Washington and London accounts rarely agree.
A target which received particular attention during the winter months was the so-called "rocket-gun coast" of northern France. This new German weapon has not as yet been tested in battle, but its threat is taken seriously both in London and Washington. The specific objectives of the forays into northern France have not been publicly revealed, but they must have included rocket-launchers, power houses and other installations. The new German devices, which probably will not be used until the eve of the invasion, are believed to be rocket-powered bombs, with wings. They probably are not radio-controlled, but rather are launched from fixed launching tubes which can be "aimed" against a specific target, such as a large city. If these devices were erected in sufficient quantities they might be able to pour into a city like London many more thousands of tons of explosives than the greatest bombing armada could carry. Probably such rocket bombs can "fly" for well over 100 miles, but their accuracy is limited. Whatever the efficiency which they may reveal, the mere threat of them has already affected our bombing campaign by diverting much of our strength from the business of bombing Germany to northern France. Some of the installations in northern France may, of course, be fake, designed to accomplish that very purpose. However, the threat must be taken as real.
During January and February the Nazis struck back against London. Their forces were not large -- generally less than 100 bombers -- but they pressed the attacks home and caused some casualties and damage. In a raid of February 18-19 enemy planes penetrated British defenses more effectively than usual, dropping strips of tinfoil to jam the British radar, probably the same trick they employed in their raid against Bari in Italy.
The war against the submarine continued satisfactorily during the winter. One American troopship was lost with 1,000 men, in an unannounced area at an unannounced date. On the whole, however, there were few ship sinkings as a result of enemy submarine operations. More ships were lost from marine accidents during four months of the fall and winter than from enemy submarine action. But there continued to be a great need for shipping as our armies overseas expanded, and there was an increase in ship sinkings from other causes -- mines, glider bombs, bombs, shellfire, motor torpedo boats and surface craft -- in the course of our preliminary operations against the coast of Europe.
The tempo of the Pacific war increased tremendously during the winter months. Indeed, the invasion of the Marshall Islands, the second great step in our major strategic offensive in the Pacific, was so successful that our schedule was advanced by about two months.
The invasion of the Marshalls followed our move into the Gilberts in November 1943. The feature of that operation was the historic Battle of Tarawa, in which the assault battalions of the Second Marine Division suffered heavy losses but which led to the capture of the atoll in 76 hours. Thereafter, airfields were developed at Tarawa, Makin and Abemama, and planes of the Army's Seventh Air Force and of the Navy's Fleet Air Wing Two commenced to "soften up" Japanese air bases in the Marshalls.
Far to the south, simultaneously, forces under General Douglas MacArthur moved across Vitiaz Strait into New Britain Island. They established extensive beachheads at Cape Gloucester on the western tip, where the First Marine Division got into action again for the first time since Guadalcanal, and also on the south coast. Meanwhile, on Bougainville, in the Solomons, our patrols operating from our beachhead had penetrated across the island to the east coast. A little later another amphibious hop was made to the Green Islands, north of the Solomons, off the coast of New Ireland, site of the important Jap base at Kavieng. General MacArthur said this move signified the virtual entrapment of 22,000 Japanese troops left as isolated garrisons in the northern Solomons and meant the virtual end of the Solomons campaign. This remained to be seen. Nevertheless it was true that both Rabaul and Kavieng were now blockaded from the air, to a lesser extent by sea, and were subjected to virtual daily bombardment. The two bases are no longer of significant importance in the Japanese scheme of defense in the Western Pacific.
What was probably the greatest combat fleet that has ever sailed the seas moved into the Marshall Islands on January 31-February 1 under the command of Admiral Raymond A. Spruance. Said to total 2,000,000 tons of fighting ships and transports, this armada steamed directly against Kwajalein, an atoll in the western string of the Marshalls. It probably included as many as a score of aircraft carriers, and many battleships, both old and new. Divided into task forces, these ships made simultaneous sea and air attacks upon all of the principal Japanese bases in the Marshalls. These attacks, on top of weeks of bombardment from land-based planes, smashed Japanese air power in those islands. No air interception by the enemy was encountered until we reached Kwajalein, and only about two submarine contacts were made. The degree of tactical surprise achieved at Kwajalein was almost unbelievable. Evidently the enemy had expected us to strike at the eastern rim of the islands.
The total garrison on the various islands of the atoll was apparently under 10,000 -- perhaps less, and at any rate not so large as we had expected. The most heavily defended islands were Roi and Namur in the north, Kwajalein in the south. The fortifications and pillboxes were strong, but not as thick as those on Tarawa. In the initial waves of the assault we used many more amphibious tractors than we had used at Tarawa and hence our troops had less difficulty reaching shore. Furthermore, we first put men ashore on islands adjacent to those which were most heavily fortified, dragged field guns ashore after them, and then to the sea and sky attack added a bombardment from shoreem-placed field guns. The Seventh Army Divison, veterans of the Aleutians, took Kwajalein, and the Fourth Marine Division captured Roi and Namur. The attack commenced on February 1, and by February 5 the atoll was ours beyond any shadow of doubt. Because of our overwhelming force, the long bombardment and the careful preparation, our casualties were relatively light -- 286 dead, 1,148 wounded, 82 missing. The entire Japanese garrison was wiped out except for 264 prisoners.
Though this great success advanced our Pacific front some 2,000 miles closer to Tokyo we did not rest upon our laurels. On February 18 and successive days the Twenty-second Marine Regiment and the 106th Army Regiment took Eniwetok atoll, northwesternmost of the Marshall Islands, thus effectively severing the Japanese air route to the Marshalls and isolating Wake Island. The same tactics were followed at Eniwetok as at Kwajalein. An intensive and overpowering bombardment was followed by seizure of islands adjacent to the main Japanese strongholds. About 2,000 Japanese were wiped out; while our losses were about 150 dead and 350 wounded.
Simultaneously with this blow, land-based bombers struck Ponape and Kusaie, Japanese outposts to Truk; while on February 16 and 17 the largest carrier-task force ever assembled and handled as a unit struck directly at that key Japanese base itself. In this daring attack we destroyed an estimated 201 enemy aircraft, 127 of them in air combat, and sank 23 enemy ships, including two light cruisers and three destroyers. This was achieved at a cost to us of 17 planes and moderate damage to one of our ships. Although this raid was a heavy blow to the Japanese system of defenses in the Western Pacific as well as to Japanese psychology, it did not accomplish all that had been hoped. Our real objectives in Truk were two small Japanese aircraft carriers and two battleships which had been reported there by air reconnaisance previously; but apparently these ships had left before our air "strike."
Following the raid on Truk, elements of the same carrier task forces under Rear Admiral Marc A. Mitscher attacked Japanese shipping and installations at Saipan, Tinian and Guam in the Marianas. On February 22, planes from our carriers, plus antiaircraft guns, destroyed 135 enemy aircraft. One enemy cargo vessel was sunk, others were damaged. Our losses were six planes.
The victories of February 1944 were of great significance to the whole Pacific war, and that they were recognized as such in Japan was indicated by a shake-up in the Japanese high command which relieved the chiefs-of-staff of both the Army and the Navy. These victories greatly weakened Japan's Western Pacific position; justified the contentions of those who held that carriers, properly used, could meet and conquer Japanese land-based aviation; and fulfilled the expectations, generally entertained, that the Central Pacific route would prove to be the least difficult of all the routes to Japan.
They were complemented by additional operations in the South Pacific. On February 29 amphibious forces under General Douglas MacArthur's command invaded the Admiralty Islands, 660 miles south of Truk and seized the air strip there. Elements of the First (U.S.) Cavalry Division (dismounted), a part of Lieutenant-General Walter Krueger's Sixth Army, made the landing. This action imperilled the lines of supply of some 50,000 Japanese troops in Rabaul and New Britain.
These February victories promise some hope for shortening the Pacific war. But it must be remembered that our major strategic offensive in those waters is just getting under way and that so far the Japanese have deliberately avoided action by their main forces and have kept their fleet intact. We are not likely to encounter the full strength of Japanese resistance until we are much closer to Japan.
In Burma, operations still were of a preliminary and limited nature. American and Chinese engineers were pushing the Ledo Road deeper into northern Burma behind a screen of American-trained Chinese troops, while British forces engaged in fierce fighting for limited gains in Arakan. China was still a secondary theater. The ground fighting there is unimportant; our air forces are a thorn in the Japanese side, but nothing more. China's principal importance today is in diverting a large amount of Japanese military and economic strength to garrison, policing and military duties.
As the great campaigns of 1944 open, then, our major military objectives are fairly well defined. In Europe, there may be an invasion from the West. In the Pacific, we shall neutralize or capture Truk and carry our amphibious drive on through the Central Pacific. The military situations in Italy and Burma, meanwhile, leave much to be desired. But it is in the political realm that the primary cause for disquiet is found as the war approaches its climax.
[i] On the contrary, many of them were joining Graziani's neo-Fascist puppet army in Northern Italy. Also, Italian saboteurs against Germany were conspicuous by their absence. German retaliation, in the form of the execution of hostages, which had proved ineffective in countries like France, Norway and Jugoslavia, worked wonders in Italy.
[ii] American casualties in the Italian campaign (exclusive of the Anzio-Nettuno battle and the later stages of the Cassino struggle) totalled 25,665 -- 3,707 killed, 16,510 wounded, 5,448 missing (most of the latter prisoners). British Empire casualties in the same period were 36,626.
[iii] Up to January 1, 1944, the RAF and the U. S. Eighth Air Force together had dropped more than 330,000 tons on Germany since the start of the war. Of this total, the U. S. Eighth Air Force dropped more than 50,000 tons in 1943 alone. The U. S. Eighth Air Force made 64,000 offensive sorties during 1943, lost not quite 1,000 heavy bombers, and is believed to have destroyed 4,100 Nazi fighters (this claim seems excessive to the present writer). Its losses (in action) amounted to less than four percent of its heavy bombers. In addition, the Northwest African Strategic Air Force and the 15th Air Force, operating in the Mediterranean, dropped 74,000 tons of bombs on Axis targets in 1943. Most of these targets were short-range ones, but a few really strategic bombings against southern Germany and Balkan targets, particularly against Sofia, had political and psychological as well as military results.