6 NOVEMBER 1942, Page 1


HERE can be no question about the brilliance or the decisiveness of the victory at El Alamein. It has been both a generals' and a soldiers' battle, and all three arms of the fighting forces have co-operated, to all appearance, with flawless precision. By the nature of things the Navy's role was the least spectacular, but the value of the interference with Rommel's supplies by both sub- marine and surface action was pretty certainly greater than has yet been realised. As for the Royal Air Force, its support of the Army from the days when General Auchinleck first made his stand on the El Alamein position has been such that controversy about future co-operation between air and ground forces in any theatre can have little further relevance. In the phase now opened up by the catastrophic defeat of Rommel in the positional battle, the R.A.F. may have a still greater role to play. The pictures already drawn of the roads choked with a mass of retreating vehicles, ceaselessly bombed day and night from the air, indicates how complete Rommel's defeat is, and how easily what began by being a retreat may end in a rout unlike any retirement in Libya yet.

After the relatively static warfare of the past twelve days, move- ment has become so swift that detailed comments may be out of date in a few hours. But certain assessments both of the past and of the future are unlikely to lose their validity. The El Alamein victory is in the first place the reward of patience. General Alexander held his hand in spite of all temptations till he was sure of such a predominance in all arms as to be able to count on penetrating even the deep defences on which Rommel had been working for four months. In the second place, every detail of the attack appears to have been planned with skill and executed with Unfaltering courage and decision. Contrary to the practice in earlier operations in Africa, the infantry went first through the minefields, the tanks following through the lanes thus opened up. When the armour was able to manoeuvre the decisive phase of the battle began. But if El Alamein has proved anything, it is the incalculable value of air-superiority. That is the best omen for the future not only of the campaign in Africa, but of the whole war, for there can be no question that the Allies' lead over Germany in the air will be rapidly and substantially increased.

The temptation to build too much on the El Alamein success must be resisted. We have seen for two years how the pendulum has swung in the Libyan campaign. It is not inevitable that it should. General Alexander and General Montgomery may well find them- selves able to end the oscillation. A great deal depends on whether in the heavy fighting of the last twelve days Rommel's forces have suffered such losses in dead and wounded, and the men of his army such a blow to its morale, that he will be incapable of making any serious stand at Mersa Matruh or Halfaya. As the pursuit developes the eternal problem of communications will become aggravated. It must take a little time to prepare for the R.A.F. those enemy airfields which the R.A.F. itself has been doing its best for weeks to batter into uselessness. It is here that the heavy bombers, with their length of range, will show their value. They and the tanks will make Rommel's westward journey singularly arduous. The further consequences of the initial victory, and its probable sequel, it is perhaps premature to discuss. They may easily be of capital importance, removing all danger from Egypt and Suez, heartening the Russians and reassuring the Turks, relieving our Ninth and Tenth armies of some of the responsibility that has rested on them, and releasing part of their forces for service else- where. Even Vichy may realise that the future of the Mediterranean is not in German hands. And Italy has still more food for reflection.

The American Elections

The result of the American Congressional elections is not as formidable a set-back to the administration as might appear. It is true that a Democratic majority of 105 in the House has been reduced to little more than a bare half-dozen, but on all major issues that should suffice to enable the President to get what legisla- tion he wants, at any rate as regards war-measures. The outcome of the election was unpredictable, for there were no sharp divisions of policy or principle between the parties, and after the prolonged run of Democratic success some swing of the pendulum was in- evitable. It is certain that the Republican gains portend no shadow of weakening in the war-effort, and the isolationist; can find little ground for satisfaction in the results, except perhaps in relation to the post-war period. The main interest is in some of the personal victories and defeats. The expected election of Mr. Dewey, as Governor of New York, ranges him beside Governor Bricker, of Ohio, as definitely "Presidential timbre." The extent of the Demo- cratic losses in the Senate is surprising, though as only a third of the seats fall vacant every two years, there were not enough

elections to enable the Republicans to secure a clear majority. The loss of the veteran Democrat, Senator George W. Norris, of Nebraska, will be widely regretted in Washington and far beyond, and several other personalities who have given the President strong support in his Lend-Lease and other measures will be equally missed. But the Republican victory, so far from weakening the President in any- thing designed to increase efficiency in the prosecution of the war will work precisely the other way.

Battles of the Pacific

The war in the Pacific has reached a high degree of intensity in two areas, New Guinea, where the Australians are successfully pursuing the enemy, and the Solomon Islands, where land, air and sea engagements on a great scale have up to now gone mainly in favour of the Americans. In New Guinea the battle of the Owen Stanley heights is over. The invading Japanese, who had fought their way over the range in the hope of capturing Port Moresby, were first counter-attacked and thrust up the heights, then engaged in hard fighting near the summit, and finally hurled down the northern slopes and out of the town of Kokoda. The Australians are now pursuing them towards their base, Buna, where their attempt to land reinforcements from a convoy was defeated last Monday. In the Solomons the position is more difficult to follow owing to the time which necessarily elapses between a .sea battle and authoritative news of its results. The fleets of both sides have been heavily engaged on at least two occa- sions since October rith in battles in which aircraft have played the principal offensive part. In the first battle we now know that the United States fleet sank at least three enemy cruisers and five destroyers. In the battle of October 26th the Americans lost an aircraft-carrier and a destroyer, and inflicted damage on two Japanese aircraft-carriers, two battleships, and three cruisers, and destroyed zoo enemy aeroplanes. In spite of the withdrawal of the Japanese fleet, Colonel Knox utters a warning against undue optimism, and expresses the belief that it is certain to attack again. At any moment there may be news of a big naval engagement.

1he Silent Fronts

It has been too little realised during the last eighteen months that our habit of criticising ourselves and laying bare our weak- nesses, though in itself a sign of health, needs to be balanced by a fair and unblushing appraisement of our achievements. Mr. Morrison's vigorous, encouraging and just account of what this country has been doing and is doing to win the war at a time when the Russians have felt that they were bearing the brunt of its sufferings was a statement that needed making by an authorita- tive member of the Government. In his speech at Cardiff last Sunday he showed how in the obscurity of the workshop and the almost equally profound obscurity of ceaseless perilous activity at sea this country has been winning battles without which the war as a whole could not be won. We are never satisfied with our production, yet the fact remains that our output per head is greater than that of any country in the world, ally or enemy, and the production of ships, aircraft and other warlike stores is still mount- ing. Of this colossal war production, 8o per cent, is being shipped across the oceans, where some 600 British warships and auxiliaries are constantly afloat guarding the 2,000 to 3,000 British and Allied merchant ships which are always at sea. Along 8o,000 miles of trade routes the Navy and the aircraft of the Fleet and R.A.F. have provided escorts for i2o,000 voyages in convoy and brought 199 out of every zoo ships into port. These are some only of the activities, going on under conditions of utmost peril every day in all parts of the world, which are apt to be forgotten in the sum-total of our effort. The Home Secretary is right to insist that Britain in the present phase is playing more than "a marginal part." There is no question of claiming any credit for that, but we are entitled at least to a just assessment.

Deat's Threats to Vichy

Germany's policy has sought to make use of Laval because, being ready to prostitute tiis office in the interests of collaboration with Germany, he still bore some semblance of being a Frenchman as well as a pro-German. But there are French agents of German who have given themselves body and soul, outwardly as well a in fact, to the cause of Germany. One of these is Doriot. Anothe is Dein, leader of the Rassemblement National Populaire, who h recently been put up by the Germans to make covert attacks o Petain, perhaps rather with the idea of frightening Laval, who ha not been able to fulfil his promises for supplying French labo for Germany, than directly influencing Petain. In a speech las Monday this notorious quisling called upon Marshal Potain t dismiss the American chargé d'Affaires, to come back to Paris an organise the "national revolution," and prepare for the defence the (African) Empire in collaboration with the German forces an for the final incorporation of France into the new Europe. Wha Deat himself thinks is of no importance, since everyone knows tha he is merely a tool of the Nazis. His words only matter becaus it is known they are what the Germans instruct him to say. To tha extent they constitute a definite threat to Laval.

The Premier and the Miners

Mr. Churchill's speech at the "private meeting" in which he addressed 3,000 representatives of the coal-mining industry may illustrate a point often made in the past by Mr. Lloyd George— that in certain circumstances and with certain speakers the power of the spoken word can still hold its own against that of the Press. Each of the miners who was present at the meeting appears to have gone away with a sense of the urgency of the occasion and the importance of the message which the Prime Minister sent to the industry. Each has gone home to his own area and handed on the message to hundreds or thousands of his fellow-miners. They may well feel that they are the trusted recipients of Mr. Churchill's confidence, and that with the special knowledge they now have of the gravity of the last two years and of the approaching period of offensive war it is incumbent on them to back up the soldiers and sailors and airmen. It has been pointed out that Mr. Churchill did not reveal to his large audience the secrets of military strategy and preparation which occupy the War Cabinet. But many things can be said in an atmosphere of confidence which would not be so frankly stated or in so free a manner if they were to appear in print. Mr. Churchill divined that this resort to a secret session of the miners would be likely to have a certain psychological value ; and that it appears to have had.

Civil Service Reform

Between April, 1939, and April, 1942, the number of whole-time non-industrial Civil Servants, excluding the staff of the Post Office, increased from 188,565 to 447,422. These figures give some indica- tion of the immense expansion of administrative work performed by Government departments. It is common knowledge that the methods of the pre-war Civil Service, long ago open to criticism in many respects, are again and again found defective under the more strenuous conditions of war. The House of Commons Select Committee on National Expenditure has none too soon turned its attention to this question. In a report on the organisation and control of the Civil Service it suggests that continuous and authorita- tive stimulus is required to give effect to needed changes. It recommends the appointment of a Parliamentary Secretary at the Treasury, who would be exclusively concerned with Civil Service questions, and the setting up of a new Select Committee of the House of Commons, appointed each session, to keep the machinery of kovernment under continuing review. It suggests that the ad- ministrative organisation of the departments on the highest plane should come under the supervision of an Organisation and Methods Division of the Treasury, which would be exclusively concerned with machinery. This, with many other proposals for avoiding over- lapping, lack of co-ordination, and infusing life into the depart- ments, urgently call for study.. But one point will immediately occur to the critics. Why identify this Organisation Division with the Treasury, whose influence is so often a sheer impediment ta action? Recent Liberal proposals advocate instead Commissioners responsible to the Deputy Prime Minister.