The Charlotte News

Thursday, May 16, 1940


Western Front

What the Allies Fight For Is a Stalemate

The military situation in Europe is exceedingly gloomy, but it is premature to assume that the Nazis are already practically in Paris and parading and in triumph along the Champs d'Elysees, that London will fall in short order.

Correctly to evaluate the progress of events it is probably necessary to realize that what the Allies want now is only a stalemate. They need time desperately. Given time, they can hope--indeed are mathematically certain--to reach, pass, and then tower far ahead of the vast Nazi superiority in mechanization and air strength which is the explanation of what we have seen.

This is a war of machines, controlled by men who make cunning use of the full potentiality of the machine, as was not done in the last war.

With that in mind, it is easy to see that the Allies did not plan to defend the Netherlands--probably made up their minds to that months and even years before the blow struck. They owed the Netherlands nothing, for it had refused all our offers of guarantees and previous occupation. And no armies were sent to Holland, for the good reason that they would have been exposed on the flank to the full fury of the Nazi attack as they came in and that no worse battlefield for a defending force could possibly be imagined.

The only forces sent into the Netherlands went to Zeeland, which offers the Nazis the only really good plane and submarine base in the country. Zeeland also commands Antwerp from the north. Zeeland remains in the hands of the Dutch and British armies.

The Allies may be thought to have two explicit objectives. One of them is to keep the Belgian and French Channel ports, Antwerp, Zeebrugge, Ostend, Boulogne, Dunkerque, and Calais, from falling into the Nazi hands. To hold Belgian ports, the roads from northwestern France must be kept open. Hence the appointed battle line is drawn from Antwerp to Brussels to Mons, precisely as in the last war.

The other objective is to keep the Nazis from cutting through the Maginot Line and breaking successfully into France.

The test of the power of the Allies to maintain these objectives is apparently at hand. If the Nazis can take the Belgian Channel ports or cut the roads from northwestern France, the French Channel ports will be in danger, though not necessarily lost. Falkenhayne, after taking Antwerp, moved confidently south upon them in 1914, only to be stopped by these raw British troops at whom the Kaiser sneered as "Contemptibles." Stopping such a move now would be more difficult, but the British are not so weak as they were then and will hurl every ounce of power into the effort. For if these ports fall, the English Channel will be closed to British shipping and all the southern half of England will be open to constant bombing by unbroken clouds and Nazi planes.

Moreover, if the ports fall, Paris is in great danger. And if at the same time the Nazis break through the Maginot Line a pincer movement would threaten the city.

However, none of these things has happened yet. The "breaking" of the Maginot Line that you read about in the headlines is in fact only the sort of "breaking" of the Siegfried Line Gamelin was achieving last Fall, when he sometimes advanced seven or eight miles in a day. Such advances mean nothing until a position is consolidated. So far the Germans have failed to consolidate even their slight gains in France nor have they cleared their path through the Belgian Ardennes down from Liege to Sedan.

What we are seeing is cavalry tactics of exactly the same order as J. E. B. Stuart and Nathan Forrest once practiced on the Yankees to their great astonishment and alarm. Mechanical forces simply swoop out far ahead of the infantry, without regard to lines of communication. Such movement by horse did not win the Civil War; whether the greater speed and striking power of the tank means that it will win this one remains to be seen. But obviously, it is subject to great dangers and limitations.

Such forces are always liable to be cut off and annihilated. Horses can forage on the country, tanks can't. Further still, such forces are necessarily driven to move without fixed objective, since they must go around rather than across the mass of opposition. That is all right in Holland and Norway, but it is dubious enough in France and Western Belgian.

Certainly the Blitz did not operate yesterday. There were small gains, but no lightning gains, for the first time since the Nazi gang rolled over the frontiers of the Lowlands. And it is the history of military drives that once they slow down they never regain momentum. Moreover, such drives are subject to losing energy precisely in proportion to their speed and size. Two weeks was about the maximum in the World War. And it is to be remembered that the Nazis are using the full force of their crack troops in this drive, cannot replace them as they drop with fatigue, and that they are being bled to death at a great rate.

In any case the Maginot Line is not broken. Breaking it remains to be proved possible, will certainly be the costliest action ever undertaken by armies, and may well result not in victory for the Nazis but in their destruction.

Nor is it at all certain that the Nazis really mean to try to break it now. It is entirely possible that the whole Sedan drive is a feint designed to draw away Allied strength from Western Belgian and to make the taking of the Channel.

(See map of Maginot Line and Siegfried Line, from September 21, 1939.)


Isolationism Is Losing Ground in This Area

What our test poll of public reaction to developing events in Europe seems to show is that in this section at least isolationist sentiment has suffered a body blow. Out of 180 persons voting, 30 were in favor of joining the war, lock, stock, and barrel. And 22 more favored sending over an air force at once. And--81 others want to let the Allies have all the supplies they need, regardless of whether or not they can pay cash for them. Altogether, that is, 133 persons out of the 180 questioned are against the isolationist policy in whole or in part--for, of course, the Johnson Act which bars credits to the Allies is one of the most essential parts of the isolationist creed.

Women, as was to be expected, showed more reluctance to face the implications of the case than men. Only ten women favored going to war or sending over an Air Force. About the same proportion of the two sexes favor letting the Allies have supplies, cash or no cash. But over one-third of the women were in favor of doing nothing and holding to isolationism, while the proportion of men who felt that way was less than one-fifth.

All this is subject to change, of course. The war spirit will be likely to recede if the Allies succeed in halting the Nazis. But for the present opinion is plainly sweeping rapidly away from the isolationism which was generally accepted until a month ago.

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