Now comes showdown –
Invasion gives Allies chance to win in 1943
If African drive succeeds, Hitler could lose by next summer
By William Philip Simms Scripps-Howard staff writer
The whole course of the war now hinges on the success or failure of the American Expeditionary Force in French North and West Africa.
If it succeeds, the Axis will be thrown out of Africa, Italy can be invaded, the simmering Balkans may rise, the Nazi effort in Russia will bog down and Hitler will face almost certain defeat, hardly later than the summer of 1943.
But the American job in North Africa is colossal. With gaps here and there, the Anglo-American battle line extends from south of Casablanca, on the Atlantic, along the coast to Cairo, a distance of 3,500 miles. That is farther than from New York to San Francisco.
Much depends on natives
Much, therefore, depends on the native populations, the French overlords and the extent of the collaboration between Vichy and Berlin.
Morocco is about the size of California. It has a population of 6,500,000. Algeria is much larger. It is about three times the size of Texas, with a population of 7,500,000. Tunisia, with 2,600,000 inhabitants, is a trifle smaller than Alabama. But French West Africa, of which Dakar is the principal port, has an area nearly two-thirds as large as the United States and a population of 15 million.
Here, then, is a total of approximately 30 million French colonials. They are excellent fighters. The Senegalese, Moroccans and Algerians were some of France’s toughest warriors in World War I. They were led, of course, by French officers.
Troops strength unknown
Just before the present war broke out, France kept about 90,000 troops in Algeria and Tunisia. These included the famous Foreign Legion, six regiments of Zouaves, six of Chasseurs d’Afrique, 12 of Algerian Tirailleurs, six of Spahis and six of artillery, engineers, airmen and so on. At Dakar and in Senegal, there were still more.
The armistice in June 1940 changed all this. At home, France was deprived of all but 100,000 troops for police purposes. She was allowed no military planes whatsoever. In the colonies, she was permitted to keep a few obsolescent “crates,” plus some troops, but the exact figures have not been divulged.
Hitler faces real problem
Now Hitler has a real problem. He must decide whether to trust Vichy or not. If he were certain they would not go over to the Allies, he would rearm France’s trained personnel, call up additional reserves and put them under the command of Marshal Rommel. Were he to do so, the Americans might not find the going so easy.
But there are reasons to believe Hitler will be afraid to rely too much on the French. They are reported to be anti-Axis and pro-American. Already Vichy has reported mutinies among its African troops, certain units of which refused to fight against the Allies.
Policy put to test
American policy toward Vichy was now to be put to the test. Ever since 1940, the President and State Department have consistently done everything they could to cultivate the friendship not only of the Metropolitan French but of the anti-Axis peoples of North Africa as well. We have sent fuel and foodstuffs to the natives and in return received a vast amount of information concerning Axis activities not only in Europe but in the French colonies.
Vichy’s policy, especially since the advent of Pierre Laval, has been to offset our diplomacy as much as possible. Vichy had allowed German “tourists” to infiltrate French Africa, especially around Dakar, Casablanca, Rabat, Oran, Algiers, Bizerte, Tunis and other key places. These “tourists” are known to have been Nazi officers and spies.
Now comes the showdown. We shall see whether Washington or Berlin has drawn the winning cards.