19 FEBRUARY 1943, Page 1

I T is profoundly depressing that while the Russians, flushed



their triumph at Kharkov, are sweeping irresistibly westwards, and prosecuting in all sectors of their front offensives .of which little lths been heard as yet, a serious set-back in Tunis should have to be recorded. That it is serious is undeniable. The abandonment of three forward airfields at a time when the whole Allied strategy depends on pushing new airfields further forward is proof enough of that. The fighting, moreover, is continuing and there may be more unwelcome news yet. Nothing irretrievable has happened or is likely to happen. A seasoned Panzer division of Rommel's force, accompanied apparently by another of von Arnim's, has pushed an American force some thirty miles or more inland and thereby sub- stantially reduced, if not completely destroyed, the possibility of preventing a junction between the main Rommel force and von Arnim's troops in the Bizerta-Tunis sector. The result of the Allied attack on the Axis forces in Tunis is not in doubt, but there it a time-table that ought to be kept, and reverses like that in the Gafsa- Sbeitla region threaten to upset it. Untried American troops were subjected to a peculiarly hard ordeal in being confronted by Rommel's panzers. What Americans can do under stress has been convincingly manifested at Batan and Guadalcanal. After a temporary set-back they can be counted on to quit themselves no less well in Tunisia. Meanwhile the Eighth Army, heaving reached the Mareth line, is in a position to make itself increasingly felt.