Fascism's last hour

by Leonard Engel
By the time this article appears, the collapse of fascist Germany may already have set in, for our Nazi enemy cannot withstand for any length of time the pressure of simultaneous war in east and west, such as has confronted him since our landing in northern France.

A generation ago, the Kaiser's Reich survived three years of war on opposite fronts and was not, in fact, finally defeated until a year and a quarter after active fighting had ceased on one, the eastern front. However, notwithstanding a superficial resemblance between the two, Germany's position today is altogether different from her situation in World War I.

The many respects in which this is the case and the reason why we should expect a quick (though not cheap) victory in Europe may be summed up in two sentences: In the first World War, the fighting on opposite fronts took place at the beginning of the war. Now it comes toward the end.

The Germany that entered upon a two-front struggle in 1914 was fresh. Hitler's Reich, on the other hand, has already been weakened by almost three years of fabulously costly fighting with the USSR, two years of large-scale air war, nearly five years of blockade, varying periods of underground war by the people of conquered nations and the series of reverses in Africa and the Mediterranean. Already at the point where they are no longer capable of significant offensive blows, the Nazis suddenly find themselves confronted by enormously greater problems and tasks.

An acknowledged effect of the second front is the necessity it places upon the Nazis to spread their forces thin, to string them out along additional hundreds of miles of front. That, however, is only a first consequence. Of the vast and powerful forces we and Britain have built up in the British Isles — greatly superior to Nazi units in the west — prior to June 6 only the air component was able to strike at the Reich. Moreover, it was able to strike, in the main, only at the industrial division of the Nazi war machine. But now we have brought into offensive play our land forces as well; further, we have compelled the Nazis to bring their troops into the open on the battlefield where the AAF and RAF can get at them. The second front, in other words, has multiplied both our means and our targets and sharply accelerated the destruction of German military power.

As a result of a mistaken concentration upon highway building and neglect of railroads in the years just before the war, the Germans have been in the grip of a near crisis in transport since 1940. Two years ago, despite the Luftwaffe's desperate need for planes, they even had to turn back to locomotive construction part of the fighter plane facilities of the Henschel company (Germany's biggest railroad equipment builder as well as a prominent aircraft manufacturer). Without counting the possibilities of increased air destruction of transport facilities from our advanced bases, the invasion of France intensifies the crisis many fold. Much more equipment and manpower are required to supply a given number of troops when they are divided between and actively fighting on opposite fronts, than when they are engaged on one only and idle on the other or are entirely concentrated in a single theater.

The core of the German problem is manpower in a dual sense — the numerical lack of it and a decline in the physical qualities and morale of what is left. According to Soviet and other reports (indirectly confirmed by German insurance figures obtained by Allied intelligence and published in the New York Times of Feb 3, 1943, and in other ways), German casualties from the beginning of war to D-day number more than 8,000,000 dead, prisoners, missing and permanently disabled, not counting wounded able to return to duty. This is more than a third of the entire German male population of military age — 18 to 45 — in 1939, or who have since passed their eighteenth birthdays — 23,000,000. The Reich has been able to withstand such losses, much greater proportionately than those that defeated the Kaiser (4,000,000 out of 17,000,000), by use of foreign labor on an undreamed of scale and by superior organization. However, the enemy has very nearly reached the limit of what even such measures can accomplish.

Evidence of this fact is abundant. First, there is the undermanned condition of almost all Nazi air and land units. The depleted state of the Luftwaffe's flying formations is too well known to need detailing. Not so well known is the fact that the personnel of the Luftwaffe as a whole now totals considerably less than 750,000, including anti-aircraft units (in Germany ordinarily a part of the air forces), as compared with the millions in Allied air arms, which generally do not include AA.

In recent months, several Wehrmacht "divisions" encountered both in Russia and the Mediterranean have proved to be rearmed and redesignated AA regiments, with an initial complement of only three or four thousand men. The ten divisions annihilated by the Red Army in the Korsun pocket last winter were likewise far below the normal strength of the German division — 15,000 men — totaling but 100,000 altogether. These and literally dozens of similar reports I can cite make it appear that the average enemy division today has a maximum strength of 11,000. Thus Hitler's vaunted 300-division army has at most 3,000,000 men and is equal to no more than 200 Anglo-American-Soviet divisions.

The manpower pinch is so great, in fact, that the Wehrmacht has been using conscripts from occupied countries, who can be compelled to fight fairly effectively when the battle is going well, but not when it is going badly. Such conscripts have been taken prisoner by our forces on every front. Furthermore, as a glance at photos of prisoners taken in Normandy and in the drive on Rome shows, the Nazis have also pressed into service many a youth who has not yet reached eighteen. The German military leaders are experienced men and know that they are robbing their armies of tomorrow by sending these youngsters into battle. They would not have done so if they had believed they would have any armies at all tomorrow or if there were any alternative.

Up to D-day, so far as can be told, German troops at the front suffered no significant shortages of equipment other than planes, notwithstanding the vast attrition of the Russian front and the air war. In that sense, the air war has been somewhat disappointing. Such shortages, however, are now likely to appear because the second front and the climactic Russian offensive will boost sharply the wastage rate of equipment as well as of men, and a Germany unable fully to man her frontline units and transport system will hardly be able to keep factory wheels turning at full speed. The air war, furthermore, has had an effect on enemy morale which is likely to prove even more decisive in the end.

It has been observed that the pounding German civilians have suffered from Forts, Liberators, Halifaxes and Lancasters has roused in them bitter hatred of the British and us and therefore strengthened enemy morale. This is true only so long as the enemy has some hope of victory. Until June 6, he had. They hoped that the US, Britain and the Soviet Union would not collaborate successfully, that the second front would not be launched, or that if launched, it would be a token front only, carried out by small forces which the armies of Marshal von Rundstedt could hurl back into the sea. This expectation has been dashed. Consequently, we may expect a continuance of the raids by our heavies now to produce a catastrophic decline in Nazi morale, both at home and at the front.

The Nazi, after all, is a sadist, not a masochist. He doesn't mind punishing others, but he has no desire to punish himself, especially when hope of victory is gone. Nor will he fight to the last man and go down with his flags flying. To begin with, the German soldier has long been so worried over air raids that a year ago the German high command had to break up the traditional territorial organization of the Wehrmacht to prevent destruction of the morale of whole units at a time, when the areas from which they came were attacked by the RAF or AAF. Second, the only defeated men who ever fight to the last are seamen unlucky enough to be aboard a ship with an iron commander and without any possibility of escape.

An accurate gauge of German morale and of the German position as a whole was the resort to the so-called "pilotless plane" shortly after our Normandy landing. The pilotless plane, which is more accurately described by the term airborne torpedo, is an extremely ingenious jet-propelled missile. Its motor is nothing but a tube constricted to the rear and with a swinging valve-gate at the front. The air stream opens the gate, builds up pressure in a combustion chamber in the tube, sets off the fuel, which shuts the valve gate in front and drives the projectile in the normal jet manner. Escape of the gases through the rear end of the tube then lowers internal pressure, permitting the air stream to open the valve again and beginning the cycle over.

However, for all its ingenuity, the torpedo is nothing but a barbarous toy of no military significance whatever, It is controlled not by radio but by a quite ordinary pair of gyroscopes. Hence it possesses no accuracy. Its spread at 50 miles is over a mile; at a hundred miles, the spread approaches three or four miles; and at the extreme range of 150 miles, the spread is several times greater again. If it had any value, it would be directed against our invasion forces and not against British civilians.

Actually its purpose is to maintain German morale by lending substance to the myth of Nazi engineering superiority. Only a truly desperate military leadership would conceive of such a stunt.

With manpower adequate in numbers and quality, many difficulties can be overcome. Without it, every difficulty is a source of disaster. Nazi Germany faces many difficulties.

This article was originally published in the August, 1944, issue of Air News magazine, vol 7, no 2, pp 15-17.
The original article includes page of 12 photos of "Planes that took part in the invasion."
Photo credits to Hans Groenhof, General Electric, North American, Consolidated Vultee, Acme, British Combine, British Information Service.

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