20 MARCH 1942, Page 5



WINTER officially ends on Saturday, and very soon now we shall see what force Hitler is able to lead back from winter-quarters to resume the task he failed to accomplish last year. Wintry weather has not ended in Russia. Indeed, a further sharp spell has just broken out. But since Hitler does not even claim that he can defeat the " Bolshevik Colossus " before the " summer," he is condemned to begin his new cam- paign at the earliest practical moment. It is a point worthy of note that by implication he admits the German armies could not be expected to fight, as could the Russians, through the winter ; and one wonders whether he relinquished the winter to the Russians because his armies could do no more for some time, or if he was merely posing as Napoleon, who is recorded as saying: "Car j'avais ire pour combattre des hommes en armes, a non la nature en courroux ; difait des armies, mais je n'ai pu vaincre les flammes, la gelie, l'engourdissement, la mart."

What gives point to this suggestion is the astounding spectacle the world has had of, what a fashion has come to deride, the rigid defensive. If one gives full value to this achievement it seems reasonable to conclude that the German generals had re- luctantly decided that they could no longer expect from their armies, for some time, the élan, personal initiative and will to advance. Russia had broken them. She had done more ; she had discovered in herself untapped sources of courage, endurance and fighting-quality after a retreat that has no parallel in history. Nov', for over three months of a winter that appears to have been unusually harsh in its rigours, she has been pressing an offensive with unflagging vigour, with a skill that no one can fail to recognise and with obvious success.

It is here that we begin to impinge upon a question that cannot but influence the development and duration of the war. The Russian success has clearly been impressive. An attentive study of Hitler's speech on Sunday makes that abundantly clear. But what we require to know, or to estimate, is the degree of success in military values. It is as just a summing-up as one can venture at this moment to say of Hitler's campaign last summer that it was a struggle of Titans, and not only was the German advance without parallel in history, but so also was the Russian retreat. sever could it have been seriously maintained, before the event proved it, that an army could fall back continuously for nearly five months, never losing its morale, never weakening in its cohesion, and never failing to give blow for blow. In propor- tion as the weight, the skill and the persistence of the German attack is appreciated, the achievement of the Russians must be recognised. Both are remarkable in military annals ; but is it too much to say that Russia, which at once began a prolonged offensive, came the better out of the furnace?

In the same way, when the Russian winter-offensive is recog- nised, it is impossible to depreciate the astounding achievement of the German army. It was called on to face the terrible Russian winter without the bare minimum of protection against the cold. No one will ever forget the abject appeal of Goebbels for even a single glove, for fur coats, for rags! Yet these soldiers, subjected by an inhuman regime to such a test, were also called upon to hold out in a number of fortified areas— hedgehogs," as they have been called—against everything that a well-armed and well-led army could do. Glance at the posi- tion about Staraya Russa. For almost a month the 16th German arTnY has been cut off, and for most of it the bulk of the fly has been dependent on supplies from the air, arriving spasmodically when the Russians failed to destroy the aircraft, never wholly sufficient, always precarious. Day by day the Russians thin out its garrison. Periodically they cut off sections of the area and either annihilate the troops or take them prisoner. This appears to me a very remarkable achievement ; and it does Dot stand alone.

There is Schlfisselberg, which the Russians clearly wish to cut out of the German positions about Leningrad. They have

advanced on both sides of it until it seems impossible that the Germans can stand there any longer. There are also the positions about Tagenrog, Sevastopol, Kharkov, Orel and the larger pocket about Vyazma and Rhzev, with its neck now closed to about ten miles. To grasp how much is entailed in their maintenance it is only necessary to think what would happen if they fell. White they remain they act as dams to the Russian flood and prevent it washing over the occupied parts of Russia up to the German borders. For some time the Russians have been no further from the Latvian frontier than an ordinary tank can travel on the petrol it carries in its own container ; but they get no nearer, and mean- while they are held off the resting troops in the back areas. More than this, the Germans are holding the springboards from which, if they have the forces, they can resume their attack on Moscow and the main Russian armies.

It must be observed that positions are in themselves largely irrelevant. The value of taking or maintaining a position depends on the circumstances. Napoleon gained nothing by his march to Moscow, and Hitler in turn broke his armies, at least for the season, by his amazing advance into the depths of Russia. Rommel, on the other hand, secured the opportunity to reinforce his battered army by abandoning positions. If we had been able to hold up the Japanese in the north or centre of Malaya there would have been time for a complete reinforcement that might have turned the scale. The value of the German stand in Russia depends on the profit-and-loss account of Hitler's armies. But as soon as this consideration is raised, one inevitably thinks of , the cost of maintaining the positions gained. The real Russian victory is less the freeing of Moscow from immediate threat and the liberation of a great part of Russian territory than the losses inflicted upon the German armies. It can hardly be doubted that the flower of the German army that over-ran Europe has been destroyed. The Russian Command from time to time an- nounce the number of killed in a given period on a particular part of the front, and the totals make up an impressive figure. The question that arises is whether the Russians are losing more, or less. Once again it may be suggested with some assurance that they have certainly not lost more than they can afford to lose. The condition that governs the winter offensive, as it governed Germany's summer offensive, is that the losses have been of much the same order, and this implies that Russia, the stronger Power, comes out of the exchange the better. But the question remains, how far has Hitler been able to preserve un- used the reservoir of troops which he allocated to the spring offensive? That the reserve has been heavily drawn upon is certain. The maintenance of these " hedgehog " positions has made increasing inroads upon the units who have been resting. But he has been sweeping Europe for reinforcements ; and, until the curtain goes up, we shall not know the measure of his success. His defensive may have been too costly ; it may have been worth while. We shall do well not to place our hopes too high.

The study of this campaign, however, is not without its bear- ing upon the operations in other parts of the world. Thoughts about the war tend to be governed by clich4s ; and for some time it has been the fashion to praise the elastic as against the rigid defensive. The Germans have shown us in Russia how valuable the rigid defensive can be, and how practicable it Is. What an infinity of difference there would now be in our general situation if some attention had been given to this matter in the Far East. There is admittedly an outlook that attaches itself to the conviction that positions do not matter. Under that con- viction men normally tend to exact from a position much less than it could yield and, at length, to call upon themselves for much less stubbornness than that of which they are easily capable. On the other hand, the rigid resistance reflects while it fosters a habit of refusing to yield.

It is a sad reflection upon the operations of the present war that the versatility and adaptability have been for the most part on the side of the enemy. Setting out with ideas based upon those evolved by the British and French in the last war, he has adapted and varied them as circumstances suggest, whereas we appear on many occasions to have shown an impressive im- mobility. At least it can be seen from the German stand in Russia what resolute men can do if they only give their minds to it. In the present juncture there could be no more im- portant lesson for us to learn. While we are condemned to the strategic defensive we should at least give every thought to making it sound, so that it will not be destroyed except at a prohibitive cost, and so that whenever and wherever the oppor- tunity to attack arises we shall have the tactical, material and numerical conditions to do so with the full promise of success.