15 MAY 1941, Page 6

The War Su - rveyed



THE grand strategy of a State must ultimately be a matter 1 of politics, though it will commonly be arrived at by the expert advice of the heads of the three services ; but the incur- sions that strategy has made into politics recently are not entirely intelligible. It is very difficult to understand, for instance, the discussion which has arisen in the United States over the state- ment that "of the 205 vessels sailing from American ports between December 3oth and March 31st bound for the United Kingdom only eight were sunk." Even if the figure were true, the official records show that during this period the total of shipping losses amounted to 1,125,235 tons, and the matter of its distribution and of the immunity enjoyed by this or that stream of shipping depends upon the value set upon the merchandise it was carrying. This, in fact, is a reflection of the strategy upon which the Government is fighting the war. The great shipping-losses can be interpreted in the amount of food lost or in terms of war-material lost on the way to some base where it might have had, if not a decisive effect, at least a very considerable influence upon actual operations Everyone will be happy to believe it was paid for only in the more stringent rationing ; but it cannot be doubted that if protection were given to the stream of necessary commodities from America it was taken away from other necessary imports or from transport to the bases. No one can believe that the United States is interested in how far we can take in our belts or even how far we can restrict military operations while getting on with the war.

A great many years ago Mahan spoke of the tendency to interpret " defence " too narrowly, and the leased naval bases apparently were selected by reference to the very paper from which this statement is taken, or at least from the body of doctrine that it set up. Whether we call this struggle to keep open the sea-communications the "Battle of the Atlantic" or, more succinctly and more accurately, "the Battle of Britain" matters little. Esse is prior to agere ; and it is indisputable that at this moment we can either live better or fight better but we cannot do both at the same time. The shipping-losses, if not critical, are at least serious. Foy the last twelve months for which official figures are now available the average monthly loss has been, in round numbers, 390,000 tons. In November and the next three months the sinkings sank below the average by 20,000, 6o,000, 6o,000 and 6o,000 tons respectively ; and then for the next two months they rose by roo,000 tons. With these facts in mind, it can be recognised that something is being cut down considerably ; part is presumably the food sacrificed (how happy would most people be to think this was the whole of it) and part represents a brake upon our war effort.

Can anyone doubt that much more might be done if our shipping-lanes were quite safe, and the amount of shipping plying upon them unlimited? In this matter we are driven back upon the basic strategy of the war. Unless the people of Britain can be assured the minimum of food to keep them in health, and at the same time can import all the war-materiel that the United States and the Empire can produce, the war threatens to drag on interminably. But, even if both these operations were assured, we should have to add a third—the ability to transfer troops and materiel to the bases near and distant where they can best be used. What we have been driven to do is to share out the immunity we can afford over the many calls upon it ; and if the figures quoted in the United States were true the allocation of additional protection would call for no criticism ; but it was certainly paid for by pinching in other directions.

A second direction in which strategy made an incursion into politics was the appeal to transfer priority of manufacture from aeroplanes to tanks. This is much more intelligible but less defensible. Even the most conventional soldier goes no farther in his misunderstanding of the air-arm than to insist that it can "destroy but not occupy " ; but he would be compelled to say that, in the existing situation, the tank can do neither. The aeroplane can at least destroy. There is no frontier that protects against invasion from the air. Whereas we are thrown back on the strategic defensive on land, we can continue and develop the strategic offensive from the air. Tanks are, of course, necessary ; and this is thoroughly well recognised now, or it never will be. But whereas the tactical and strategical effect of the tank are well known, the full, unremitting and overwhelming offensive from the air has yet to be tried out. It may appear to be paradoxical to set down such a propos., ion when we have before our eyes the effects of the German bomb- ing-attacks; but, when the history of this war comes to be written, it will probably be found that though the coldly detached observer will justify much of what is most hateful in the German offensive, he will at the same time insist that it failed of its effect because, without unlimited air-power, it was insufficiently concentrated. It sows widespread destruction without achieving vital destruction.

The recent developments of British night-fighting are encouraging, without affording all the encouragement that many appear to derive from them. In eleven nights 136 German bombers have been brought down ; and, if that average could be maintained, it would certainly affect the future of German night bombing. The best aspect of the development is shown by the respective totals for the first four months of the year: 15, 15, 47 and 90 respectively. Such a series implies that the British night-fighter is steadily improving ; and, taken with the figures for this month, it suggests that better results still will be secured in the future. This conclusion appears to be justified ; and we cannot fail once more to reflect upon the splendid fibre of the young men who achieve these results. But we are bound to point out that the greatest number of successes were achieved in the nights when the moonlight was at its brightest. If it also coincided with the most numerous attack of the German planes, this does not necessarily mean that the number of planes destroyed will increase in proportion to the number of planes sent over, but that the volume of attack may reason- ably be expected to be greater on these occasions, even if it involves greater risk.

It is of importance to note that the greater part of the destruction is due to the night-fighter, though, out of the first fifty aeroplanes brought down, five succumbed to anti-aircraft fire. The bearing of that upon the question of strategy is this. We are, or should be, aiming at complete supremacy in the air. Even if the night-fighter should be equally developed in Germany—though it must be said that there is as yet no sign of it—an overwhelming supremacy would meet that difficulty ; and meantime it is obvious that if we should really secure such a development of the night-fighting that the risk narrowed down the German raids without a corresponding restriction upon British raiding-activity, that might decisively influence the war At least it seems necessary to recognise that our aim should be to secure more and more bombers of greater range, increasing speed and greater carrying-capacity. It seems to be certain that we are causing more destruction in Germany than ever before ; and it scarcely requires pointing out that, at a certain point, supremacy will not mean that we shall merely each destroy each other's country or war-potential, but that the German power to avenge the blows it suffers will be destroyed along with every other aspect of its war-potential.

There cannot be any question that at present we are far from parity with Germany in numbers and, operating upon interior lines, she can make a better use of her numbers than can we. But the inequality is disappearing, though not so quickly as many people have thought. The president of the American Aeronautical Chamber of Commerce, on April 3oth, stated that the number of aeroplanes supplied by America since the beginning of the war is 3,500. He also put the British and German production at 1,5oo per month. Clearly at !his rate there is still considerable leeway to make up. But the present rate of American, like British, production has only been reached by a steady acceleration ; and, if the British production cannot be expected to develop indefinitely, the United States could itself far exceed that of Germany and the forced labour she commands. The obstinate factor of time intervenes ; and it is to be hoped that everyone realises the longer the time taken in getting under way, the greater distance there will be to go in achieving air-supremacy. But there can be little doubt that in this direction, and in this direction alone, can the German war-potential be destroyed cheaply. It has frequently been pointed out in these articies that it is hard to exaggerate the effect of an air-offensive developed with full weight and skill. We have no reason to doubt the possession of the latter quality, and it can only be hoped that :re Royal Air Force will he permitted to strike effectively. A strong air- force can damage greatly; a supreme force can destroy even the capacity to strike back.