Washington takes a rosy view of the war on land—but we haven't begun to win our war against Hitler's submarines
ERNEST K. LINDLEYMarch11943
Memo from Washington
ERNEST K. LINDLEY
Washington takes a rosy view of the war on land—but we haven't begun to win our war against Hitler's submarines
THERE IS a lively current, of optimism in official circles in Washington. Some of the reasons are obvious—the Russian gains, the signs of decline in German air power, and the unmistakable evidence of gloom within the Reich. These indications of improvement in the European theatre are no longer impressing civilians alone. It is significant that, after the detailed review of the military situation by the British and American high commands at Casablanca, the hardest-headed among the professional military men admit that the outlook has improved. Even the sceptics now classify the Russian winter operations as successful counter-offensives, in contrast to the counterattacks of a year ago which pushed the Germans back to prepared defenses but resulted in the recapture of only one important and well-defended position. As I write, it is feared that the suicidal resistance of the Axis forces in the Stalingrad area, athwart railroad lines, may have so delayed the Russians that they will not be able to convert their advances in the south into a victory of the first magnitude.
But even if the Russians should fail to recapture Rostov, they have delivered punishing blows and forced major retreats.
As to the recent enigma,
“What has happened to the Luftwaffe?” the firm judgment here now appears to be that the Germans are not hoarding for a surprise. This verdict has been supported by Goering’s explanation to the German people that the Luftwaffe did not retaliate against the R.A.F. and American bombings from Great Britain because it couldn’t.
Over Tunisia the Germans are still losing two planes for every one lost by the R.A.F. and the American Army Air Forces.
The American High Command had counted on no more than an even break.
The other principal reason for optimism in official circles probably is less obvious to the public. It is the continual rediscovery that the combined Chiefs of Staff of Great Britain and the United States can really work effectively. This combined machinery operates daily in Washington, but it is only when the top men on both sides periodically gather for major decision-forming conferences that it is put to a full test. The highest professional strategists of both nations put in ten long days together at Casablanca. Although we do not wish to know their decisions before Hitler does, or Tojo, it is evident from the reactions here that they were satisfactory to the American command.
The absence of Stalin has given rise to sharper conjecture in the public prints than in official circles. In the latter his stated reason—his pre-
occupation as Commander-in-Chief with the Russian winter offensives then reaching a critical stage—is said to be adequate. His declination of the invitation is understood to have been couched in friendly terms and accompanied by an expression of hope that he could attend the next meeting of the President and Mr. Churchill.
No Optimism About U-Boats
IN HIGH quarters optimism as to the trend of the transatlantic phase of the war is tempered, of course, by knowledge of the depredations of the German submarines. Those who know the facts, both officials and members of the press, feel that the failure to keep the public informed as to the proportions of the U-boat campaign has been a blunder. So far no official figures on United Nations shipping losses during 1942 have been made public. The best unofficial estimate is that they totalled between ten and eleven million deadweight tons, a loss barely covered by new construction during the year, and in the vitally important tanker category probably exceeding new construction by a substantial margin. New construction in United States yards alone is now running ahead of losses, but not enough to keep pace with the rising work-load of United Nations shipping. Moreover, officials vouch
for the statement that the Germans are commissioning new submarines more rapidly than they are being sunk and that the U-boats are striking with increasing force, at times penetrating even well-guarded convoys.
Because of the obvious need for more escort vessels, the construction of these small fighting ships was stepped up last year. The program has not yet had material effect in increasing the strength of the escort fleet at sea, but there is hope that conditions will improve as the ships become available. The war against the submarines, however, does not rely on mere numbers of escort craft alone, and the search goes on constantly for other weapons. The United Nations have numerous secret devices, both for detection and attack,
Continued on page 42
Continued from page 15
at various stages of development. Recent heavy air attacks on Nazi submarine bases along the French coast probably failed to destroy the dry docks and bomb-proof hideouts of the underseas fleet, but the military view is that they can be counted on conservatively to have demolished other installations and to have slowed up repair work.
Many officials concerned with the problem, as well as some commentators, believe that the antisubmarine offensive needs centralization and dramatization, and there is reason to believe that these steps are now under consideration in high quarters.
Naval officers emphasize, however, that whatever is done on the organizational side, rapid mastery of the submarine is not to be expected. They are braced for heavy shipping losses until the second half of 1943, when new escort vessels will become available in largenumbers. They warn that the losses may even increase during the spring months, although they doubt that losses will again exceed new construction and they count on a steady rise in the total merchant tonnage of the United ; Nations.
It was only natural that the ■ increased emphasis on production of escort vessels should have its effect on other programs. It has clashed with the need for more high octane gasoline and synthetic rubber—not on the basis of competition for raw materials but because all three I products demand some of the same kinds of equipment, particularly valves, compressors, pumps, condensers, boilers, radiators and recording instruments. As a result, I part of the synthetic rubber program
has been deferred in favor of the other two. Rubber Director William Jeffers has been assured of priorities and scheduling for only 452,000 tons of the 1,037,000,000 tons recommended for 1943 and 1944 in the Baruch report on rubber. This is about thirty per cent below what Mr. Jeffers considers a “minimum” program and forecasts a production in 1943 considerably less than what the Baruch report recommended as desirable.
Army Bears Down
THIS MEANS, in all probability, that no crude or synthetic rubber will be available for civilian passenger cars until late in 1944. The Army is urging even more stringent conservation by civilians, including the requisitioning of all spare tires and of some 7,000,000 automobiles as well, in addition to compelling commercial vehicles to rely chiefly on reclaimed rubber.
There is another problem, however, that has not yet reached the stage of even temporary solution. It is the accumulating manpower shortage, felt for some time, and now becoming acute. It stems, of course, from plans to increase the size of the United States Army, at present numbering about 5,000,000 men, to
7,500,000 exclusive of officers by the end of this year. With expansion of the officer personnel and the size of the Navy and other armed services, it will mean the drawing of about 5,000,000 men out of civilian life by next January to put a total of nearly 11,000,000 under arms. On top of the need for replacing this labor force is an anticipated further increase in production.
Unemployment has all but dis-
appeared at this stage of the war effort, and the biggest single source of new workers is women who hitherto have not been in the labor market. Estimates of the War Manpower Commission indicate that in war industries alone there will be
2.800.000 jobs for women during the next six months.
Latest available figures indicate that only about twenty-nine per cent of American women over fourteen years of age are in the labor market, although the British Supply Council estimates that in Great Britain some
11.740.000 of the 17,240,000 women of like age are actively engaged in industry, enrolled in the uniformed services, or doing duty as full-time civilian defense workers. The war role of American women does not begin to compare with that in Britain, where women are contributing forty per cent of war production, doing welding, fitting and sub-assembling work in airplane factores and even repairing railroad tracks and cleaning rolling stock.
War Manpower Commission estimates, projected from 1940 census figures, indicate that the readily available female labor reserve amounts to 11,000,000 and that it will be the determining factor in the labor shortage. If women can be convinced that their contribution is essential to the winning of the war there are enough to do the job. The chief obstacles in recruiting them have been their preoccupation with housework and child care, lack of local job opportunities, lack of incentive for women who already share in adequate family incomes, and to some extent the conventional disapproval of working wives.
Continued on page 44
Continued from page 42
The need f$ their services is illustrated in the over-all manpower problem which contemplates theutilization of 65,000,000 persons out of the population of 100,000,000 above fifteen years of age, either in the military services, in war production, or in essential civilian occupations. With 11,000,000 of this total under arms, the proportion of civilian workers to fighting men will be about five to onea ratio that cannot be greatly lowered, ;
These figures make it readily apparent just what such a total mobilization of man and womanpower will mean to civilian life, and for the first time Congress has begun to question whether the military situation really justifies so great an expansion oí the armed forces. Sentiment is divided on the question, with some groups of the opinion that the military demands cannot be questioned, but one senate investigation already is seeking a redetermination of the military needs in the light of the world situation. Opponents of Army expansion reason that present goals were set at a time when the military outlook of the United Nations presented a far darker picture, when there was no assurance that Russia’s Armies would hold intact. Furthermore, they argue, the failure to reduce the submarine menace makes it inadvisable to transport large armies abroad at present, and therefore postpones the need for expansion.
There are some officials of the Government who feel that if the program is carried through as presently projected, large-scale worker
regimentation and allocation must be employed. The Administration, however, has been wary of sponsoring compulsory national service legislation, to which organized labor has expressed strong opposition.
But steps have been taken in that direction. Official distinction has been made between essential and nonessential civilian occupations. Recently the Selective Service System went a step farther to order removal of any reason for deferment(including that of dependency which has been a main element of the United States draft system) in twenty-nine specific occupations and in a group of manufacturing, trade and service activities. It was indicated that both lists would be enlarged in scope as time went on.
Whether future steps along this line will be sufficient to dry up nonessential activity and mobilize all effort for war, obviating direct compulsion, is still uncertain.
On the political side of the war there is still an undercurrent of agitation over the dealing with Vichy elements by the Allies in North Africa. President Roosevelt, at his first press conference after his return from the Casablanca conference with Mr. Churchill, made it plain that General Henri Giraud was in control of French territories in Africa and t$at the general policy of cooperating with all groups willing to the Axis has the support of the üritièh and United States Governm&vtef* He minimized reporté of policy disputes, asserting that there would be greater co-operation and co-ordination between Giraud and General Charles De Gaulle as a result of their meeting.
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.