|Letter to Elizabeth [3/25/1944]
G2 Sec. HQ.FUSAG
Mar. 25 1944
Dear Elizabeth and Gang
I feel the urge to write down a few more thoughts that have come to my mind and as no one seemed to resent my last "circular" letter I think that I will try it again. The full moon brought a cessation of air raids but they were resumed again with the dark of the moon. Two in this last series have been severe --- more severe than any in the first series --- but the majority of them have been comparatively light. One was intense enough to get me out of bed and to persuade me to dress and put on my tin hat; it is astonishing what a few clothes and a tin hat will do for one's courage.
But what I want to talk about is war weariness and the growth of war weariness is only slightly related to air raids. There is little doubt in my mind that the British have become noticeably more war-weary since I first came here seven months ago. At that time they were thoroughly fed-up with the war but the skies looked fairly bright. Africa had been cleaned up, Sicily taken and Italy was about to go out of the war. The Russians were doing well, there were no air raids on England that amounted to anything. The best American generals were coming here and they were to be followed by a million or more American troops. The Allied air war was gathering strength and the scene was being set for the knock out blow. Surely the Nazis and the Junkers would realize that they had lost the war, that it's continuance could only mean further heavy bloodshed and property loss that would leave Germany prostrate for a generation. Even if for no other reason than to conserve some strength on which to rebuild for another war, Germany would see the wisdom of surrendering before she was destroyed. So in spite of weariness, the British people, without complaint, were pressing forward to the finish.
The average man on the street does not analyse the war any more than he does any other complicated subject. His ideas are a muddy blend of newspaper headlines, arguments in the pub, propaganda and personal experience heavily influenced by the weather and his digestion. He feels that while undoubtedly Africa and Sicily were "good shows" they don't seem to have changed the war much of any. Italy being out of the war hasn't changed anything and there is a lot of bloody fighting for one little mass of rubble that was once a town. There are a lot of towns between Cassino and Berlin. The Americans have arrived in hordes; they have crowded the British out of their houses and offices, they have jammed the hotels, they have taken over the night clubs and the common man's pubs, they sing and yell on the streets at night, they ridicule the British customs and practices, they have stolen a lot of British women from British men due largely to the comparatively high income received in the American army. But in spite of all this the war doesn't seem to be so close to it's end. The Germans don't seem to be quitting as expected. In fact they are proving themselves damned good fighters in Italy and seem to be able to stop us in spite of everything. We hear what wonderful things the British and American air forces are doing but the fact is that the damned Hun is attacking England in a way that he hasn't done for three years and every night hundreds of British people are being killed or hurt and scores of homes destroyed. Why just two days ago you were talking to Bill Jones and last night he go it; Pete and his whole family are being taken care of in an emergency hut because they lost their place and all their clothes and furniture. No, the Hun doesn't look licked. The Russians seem to be putting on a "good show". How is that when you know their system is all wrong? And besides, you know you can't trust those blokes! And look at this 'Itler now! Instead of being licked he is conquering some new country down in the Balkans. Bulgaria, ain't it? No, I'm telling you Pal, these 'uns ain't licked. It's a long war yet and I'm damned well sick of it.
Even among the educated people one finds some of the same attitude. They understand the situation better but they have been disappointed so often in the last five years of war that they look with a pessimistic eye on developments and they tend to magnify the difficulties. There are British-American frictions with fault on both sides, there have been mistakes in the Italian campaign, there are huge difficulties in launching the final offensive. All of these things loom large in a tired, worried mind particularly under air raid strain. Air raid strain affects different people in varying ways. I know officers who went through heavy battles in the world war who literally tremble with fright during raids. God knows what sub-conscious reactions from the world war are brought to the surface by the sound of guns and high explosives. I know others who are all right for three or four consecutive nights of raids and then become snappy and thoroughly disagreeable. But air raids do add to war weariness.
I was among the optimists last fall because I felt that I could accurately visualize coming events and I thought that the logical German mind would not keep on after it knew that the war was lost. Actually, events have been much better than I dared hope. The German air force is really on the ropes. When American aircraft can bomb Berlin in daylight without air opposition, you may be sure the German fighter force is nearly done. It means that almost anything will be sacrificed in order to conserve some fighters to oppose the expected invasion. German production has been hurt to an unexpected degree. The Russian successes are far beyond any reasonable expectations. The war should be over but it isn't. We misjudged the extent of Nazi depravity. We couldn't believe that the leaders would deliberately sacrifice thousands of their own countrymen in grasping for a straw that might save their own necks.
But what is the straw they are grasping for? I believe [it is] this war-weariness that I have been discussing in the letter. The Germans know, I believe, that they cannot win this war but they feel that under certain circumstances we might not be able to win it either and they could make a compromise peace that would allow them to rebuild. They know that they have gone too far with bad faith and atrocity. The unconditional surrender means [that] , one way or another, they could never become a great military power again. Therefore, they decided to stake all their chips on the one gamble of achieving a stalemate based on war weariness. As individuals, the leaders had little to lose; the Allies had promised them the hangman's noose irrespective of whether they surrendered at once or sacrificed another million lives before the final collapse.
In my opinion, they can perhaps achieve the stalemate in one way; and in one way only. That way is by driving the Allies back into the sea with a huge Dunkirk when and if the invasion is attempted. In this event, I can visualize the Russians loosing confidence in our fighting ability and perhaps in our good faith. Having thrown the Germans out of Russia and such land to the west as they desire, a peace on Russian terms that provided for German reparations and/or German labor to reconstruct devastated Russia would be a possibility. The Germans would pay almost any price to get the Russian Bear off their backs and allow them to move all of their forces to the west to oppose the Allies. You can visualize the pressure that would arise in the States to have us devote our primary effort to defeating our "natural" enemy, Japan, rather than spending another year or two preparing a second huge invasion force for Europe while the Japs gained in strength by exploiting conquered lands and perhaps knocked China out of the war. With all German forces gathered across the channel, with American strength and attention swinging to the Japanese war, the outlook would seem very dim to the war weary British. A compromise peace might appear to be the only possible action.
This is all purely personal opinion but to me it appears as the only hope the Germans can have at this stage of the game. It is the only explanation for Germany's decision to continue fighting an apparently hopeless war that appears logical and I have always thought that the German mind was a logical one.
I am not in the least pessimistic because I am sure that this hope will explode also. First, the war may end tomorrow due to Germany's inability to continue to fight in Russia and Italy without adequate air forces while their cities, productive facilities and transportation systems are being relentlessly destroyed. Second, the war may end tomorrow due to inability to control a civilian population that is being mercilessly attacked from the air and that is receiving no protection from the German air forces. But finally, and most important, the hope will explode because an Allied invasion will not be driven back into the sea. I think this not because the invasion will be easy but because I think it will not be attempted unless success seems reasonably well assured. It is the greatest gamble of the war and the loser may well lose all. It will not be undertaken lightly and British caution and British battle experience will be a powerful brake on American over-optimism if necessary.
I know there is some impatience at home as well as in Russia that the invasion seems slow in getting under way but impatience of this nature reflects ignorance of the magnitude of the problem. Only my new work that I have been on less than a month has given me any conception of it. It is, I suspect, the greatest military operation that the world has ever seen; greater than any Russian effort since it must be an amphibious operation launched and supplied by water against an enemy on land behind very strong fortifications and supplied by the world's finest road and railroad networks. The coordination of navies, armies, supplies, medical facilities, bridging materials is a problem so immense that it staggers you. And it must be remembered that we have to send comparatively green troops, under inexperienced officers, against an Army hardened by years of battle experience. Faulty preparation would mean defeat and, as I said above, this will be the climax of the war. Furthermore, delay within certain limits does little harm as long as the air war of attrition keeps weakening the German air force and the German productive system. So patience is in order. In fact, if the war should be won from the air and thus make invasion unnecessary it would not seem a great calamity. God knows how many American lives would be saved.
But this is the worst of times for a political campaign and loose statements by politicians. Nerves are strained here, British-American frictions are inevitable, troubles of all sorts are bound to arise that will require all of General Ike's well known political ability to straighten out. The Germans will do everything possible to sow discord among the Allies; loose campaign speeches can help the enemy to a very great degree. The Republicans will lose what little soldier vote they have left --- and it is not much due to the asinine way they handled the soldier vote question --- if the men begin to hear stupid and harmful statements made at home for the purpose of getting little men into office. Remember that the American soldier over-seas is war-weary also. He is away from home, he is living in discomfort and in the back of his mind, with the invasion coming up, is the constant doubt as to how long he has to live at all. He does not feel in the least tolerant of politicians; he will have bitter hatred toward any man who makes his job, or the hazards he faces, any greater.
All in all, I think that the next few months represent a great crisis of the war. It is one in which we might fail to win the war; it is certainly one in which we might sow the seeds of discord that would prevent us from winning the peace. It must be a time in which the fighting men are given every encouragement from home; they must be made to feel that the people at home are trying just as hard as they are to get the job done. Unfortunately what they do hear is news of strikes, of squabbles between the President and Congress, of riotous spending of swollen incomes in night clubs , of Lonergrins and Charlie Chaplins. It doesn't help.
I have rambled long enough. My best to you all.