Coming Allied Offensive
THE CASABLANCA DISCUSSIONS
By WINSTON CHURCHILL, Prime Minister of Great Britain
Delivered to the House of Commons, February 11, 1943
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. IX, pp. 294-301.
THE dominating aim which we set before ourselves in the conference at Casablanca was to engage the enemy's forces on land, sea and air on the largest possible scale and at the earliest possible moment.
The importance of coming to ever closer grips with the enemy and intensifying the struggle outweighed a number of other considerations which ordinarily would be decisive in themselves.
We have to make the enemy burn and bleed in every way that is physically and reasonably possible, in the same way as he has been made to burn and bleed along the vast Russian front from the White Sea to the Black Sea, But it is not as simple as it sounds.
Great Britain and the United States were formerly peaceful countries, ill-armed, unprepared. They are now warrior
nations, walking in fear of the Lord, very heavily armed and with an increasingly clear view of their salvation.
They are actually possessed of very powerful, growing forces with great masses of munitions coming along. The problem is to bring these forces into action.
The United States has vast oceans to cross in order to close with her enemy. We also have seas and Oceans to cross in the first instance, and then for the both of us there is the daring, complicated enterprise of landing on defended coasts and also building up of all supplies and communications necessary for vigorous campaigning once a landing has been made.
It is because of this that the U-boat warfare takes firstplace in our thoughts. There is no need to exaggerate the danger of U-boats or to worry our seamen by harping upon it unduly, because the British and American Governments have known for some time past that there were these U-boats about and have given the task of overcoming them the first priority in all their plans.
This was reaffirmed most explicitly by the combined staffs at Casablanca.
The losses we suffer at sea are very heavy and they hamper us and delay our operations, they prevent us coming into action at our full strength and thus they prolong the war with its certain waste and loss and all its unknowable hazards.
Progress is being made in the war against U-boats.
We are holding our own and more than holding our own.
Before the United States came into the war we made our calculations on the basis of British building, which was guaranteed, and lend-lease, which assured a steady and modern improvement in our position by the end of 1943. On a very high scale of losses, there never was a moment in which we did not see our way through, provided that what the United States promised us was made good.
Since then various things have happened. The United States entered the war, and their shipbuilding has been stepped up to the present prodigious levels amounting in 1943 to over 13,000,000 gross tons, in American nomenclature eighteen to nineteen million deadweight tons.
When the United States entered the war she brought with her a mercantile marine, American and American-controlled, of perhaps 10,000,000 gross tons as compared with our then existing tonnage, British and British-controlled, of about—I am purposely not being precise—twice as much.
On the other hand, the two powers had more routes to guard and more jobs, and they therefore, of course, presented more numerous targets to U-boats. Very serious depredations were committed by U-boats on the east coast of America until a convoy system was put into proper order by the exertions of Admiral King.
Far East Losses
Heavy losses in the Far East were also incurred at the outset of the war against Japan, when the Japanese pounced upon large quantities of British and United States shipping there.
The greatest operation of landing in North Africa and maintaining armies ashore naturally exposed the Anglo-American fleets to further losses, although there is compensation for that to which I shall refer later. And Arctic convoys to Russia have also imposed a heavy toll.
The main part of both those operational losses fell upon the British. In all these circumstances it was inevitable that joint American-British losses in the past fifteen months should exceed the limits for which we British ourselves alone in the days when we were alone had budgeted.
However, when vast expansion in the United States shipbuilding is added to the credit side our position is very definitely improved.
It is my opinion that it is desirable to leave the enemy guessing at real figures; to let him be the victim of his own lies and to deprive him of every means of checking exaggerations of his U-boat captains or of associating particular losses with particular forms and occasions of attack.
I, therefore, do not propose to give any exact figure. This, however, I may say: That in the last six months, which included some of those heavy operations which I have mentioned, Anglo-American and important Canadian new building taken together exceeded all of the losses of the United Nations by one and a quarter million tons.
That is to say, our joint fleet is one and one quarter million tons bigger today than it was six months ago. It is not much, but it is something and something very important.
But that statement by no means does justice to the achievements of the two countries because of the great American flow of shipbuilding which is leaping up month by month. Losses of the last two months are the lowest sustained for over a year.
The number of U-boats is increasing, but so are their losses. And so also are our means of attacking them and protecting convoys.
It is, however, a horrible thing to plan ahead in our building on the basis of losing hundreds of thousands of tons a month, even if you can show a favorable balance at the end of the year. Waste of precious cargoes, destruction of so many noble ships, and the loss of heroic crews all combine to constitute a repulsive and somber panorama.
We cannot possibly rest content with losses on this scale, even though they are outweighed by new building.
Even though they are not for that reason mortal in their character, nothing is more clearly proved than that well-escorted convoys, especially when protected by long-distance aircraft, beat the U-boat.
I don't say they are complete protection, but they are enormous mitigation.
We have had hardly any losses at sea in our heavily escorted troop convoys.
Few Troops Lost at Sea
Out of about three million soldiers who have been moved under protection of the British Navy—about the world, to and fro across the seas and oceans—only 1,348 have been killed or drowned, including missing. That is about 2,201 to 1 against being drowned, if you travel in British troop convoy during this war.
Even if U-boats increase in numbers there is no doubt that superior proportionate increases in naval and air escort would be the remedy. A ship not sunk is better than a new ship built.
Therefore, in order to reduce waste in merchant ship convoys we have decided by successive steps during the last six months, to throw emphasis rather more on production of escort vessels, even though it means some impingement on new building. Very great numbers of escort vessels are being constructed in Britain and the United States. They are equipped with every new device of anti-U-boat warfare, in all the latest refinements.
We pool our resources with the United States, and we have been promised—and this promise is being executed in due course—our fair allocation of American-built escort vessels. There is another point. Every one sees how much better it is to have fast ships than slow. This is also true of race horses, as the noble lady (Lady Astor) was so well aware in her unregenerate days.
Fast Ships Found Costly
However, speed is a costly luxury. The most careful calculations are made and are repeatedly revised. As between having fewer faster ships or more slow ones, the choice is not entirely a free one. The moment you come into the sphere of fast ships, engine competition enters a new phase. It starts with escort vessels and extends in other directions; also in materials for a higher speed engine. There come other extremely intricate complications.
I should strongly advise the House to have confidence in the very capable people who, with full knowledge of the facts, are working day in and day out on all of these aspects.
I can assure the House they would be delighted to have any additional fast ships, even at some loss of aggregate tonnage, provided they could be assured the engines would not clash with other even more urgent needs. In all these matters I would like the House to realize that we don't aim at the maximum. We aim at the optimum, which is not quite the same thing in many ways.
On the offensive side in U-boat warfare, the rate of killing of U-boats has steadily improved. From January to October, 1942, inclusive, the rate of sinking was certain and probably was the best we had seen so far this war.
But from November to the present date the three months' rate has improved more than half as much again. At the same time the destructive power of the U-boat has undergone steady diminution since the beginning of the war. In the first year each operational U-boat at work accounted for an average of nineteen ships; in the second year an average of twelve, and the third year an average of seven and one-half. These figures, I think, are in themselves a tribute to the Admiralty and all others concerned.
Inroads on Food
It is quite true that at the present time we are making inroads upon the reserves of food and raw materials which we prudently built up in the earlier years of the war. We are doing this for the sake of the military operations in Africa, Asia and the Pacific. And we are doing it for the sake of Russian convoys and for the sake of giving aid in food and supplies to India, Persia and other Middle Eastern countries. We are doing this on the faith of President Roosevelt's promise to me of large allocations of shipping coming to us as floods of American new building come upon the seas.
Risks have to be run, but I can assure the House that these needs are not left to chance or to sudden belated and panic spurts. Provided the present intense efforts are kept up here and in the United States, and as anti-U-boat warfare continues to hold first place in our thoughts and energies, I take responsibility for assuring the House—and I have not misled them so far—that we shall be definitely better off as far as shipping is concerned at the end of 1943 than we are now.
While it is imprudent to try and peer so far ahead, all tendencies show that unless something entirely new and unexpected happens in this well explored field, we shall be still better off by the end of 1944, assuming that the war continues until then.
Calls For Renewed Effort
It may be disappointing to Herr Hitler to learn that we are on a rising tide of tonnage and not upon an ebb of shrinkage but it is the governing fact of the situation. Therefore, let every one engaged in this sphere of operations bend to his or her task and try to keep the losses down and the launchings up.
Let them do this, not under the spur of fear or gloom or patriotic jitters, but in sure exhilaration and consciousness of the gigantic task which is forging steadily forward to the successful accomplishment.
The more sinkings are reduced, the more vehement our Anglo-American war efforts can be. The margin of improving and widening means power to strike heavier blows against the enemy. The greater the weight we can take off Russia and how quickly the war will end all depend upon the margin of new building and forging ahead over losses
which are, although improving, still lamentable and a grievous fact to meditate upon.
Meanwhile, let the enemy, if he will, nurse his vain hopes of averting his doom by U-boat warfare.
He cannot avert it, but he may delay it, and it is for us to shorten that delay by every conceivable effort. It was only after full, cold, sober and mature consideration of all these facts on which our lives and liberties would certainly depend that the President, with my full concurrence as an agent of the War Cabinet, decided that the note of the Casablanca conference should be the unconditional surrender of all our foes.
Justice for Wicked
Our inflexible insistence upon an unconditional surrender does not mean we shall stain our victorious arms by any wrong and cruel treatment of whole populations. But justice must be done upon the wicked and the guilty, and within her appropriate bounds Justice must be stern and implacable. No vestige of Nazi or Fascist power or of the Japanese war plotting machine will be left by us when the work is done, as done it certainly will be.
That disposes, I think, of two important features of the Casablanca conference: first, recognition that defeat of the U-boat and improvement of the margin of shipbuilding resources is a prelude to all effective aggressive operations; and, secondly, after considering all those facts, the statement which the President wished to be made on the subject of unconditional surrender.
But the Casablanca conference was, in my not inconsiderable experience of these events, in various ways unparalleled.
There has not been in all inter-Allied conferences I have known anything like prolonged professional examination of the whole scene of the world war in its military armament production and economic aspect.
Conference Held Unparalleled
This examination was conducted during one whole day and far into the night by military, naval and air experts, sitting alone and without political influence being placed upon them, although general guide has been given by the President and myself.
They were sitting alone talking these matters out as experts and professionals. Some conferences in the last war lasted one or two days, but this was eleven days. There they were, and I think I can speak of the advice and decisions taken as being based upon professional information and advice in its integrity.
There never has been anything like that. When you have half a dozen important theatres of war open in various parts of the globe, there are bound to be divergencies of views when the problem is studied from different angles.
There have been many divergencies of views before we came together, and it is for that reason I pressed for many months a meeting of as many of our great Allies as possible. These divergencies are on emphasis and priority rather than principle. They can only be removed by prolonged association of consenting and instructed minds.
Human judgment is fallible. We may have taken decisions which may prove to be less good than we hope, but at any rate anything is better than not having a plan. You must be able to answer all questions in these matters of war, to have a plain answer to the question what is your plan, but it does not follow that you would always be giving that answer.
We have now a complete plan of action which comprises apportionment of forces as well as their direction, and this plan we are going to carry out according to our policy duringthe next nine months, before the end of which we will make efforts to meet again.
Definite Design Is Followed
I feel justified in asking this House to believe that their business is being conducted according to a definite design and, although there will be disappointments and failures, serious failures and frustrations, there is no drifting or indecision, no inability to form a scheme, no waiting for something to turn up.
For good or ill, we know our minds and we have the united advice of our experts, and there is nothing now but to work out the plans in detail and put them into execution, one after another.
I believe it was Bismarck who said—I have not been able to verify it, but I expect I shall find out now—in the closing years of his life that the dominating factor in the modern world was that the people of Britain and the United States spoke the same language. If so, it was a much more sensible remark than those from some others who have held high office in Germany.
Certainly British and American experts and their political chiefs gain an enormous advantage by the fact that they can interchange thoughts so easily, so freely and so frequently by the common medium of speech.
This, however, did not in any way diminish our great regret that Premier Stalin and some of his distinguished generals could not be with us. The President, in spite of the physical disabilities which he so heroically surmounts, was willing to go as far as Khartum in the hope that we could have had a tripartite meeting.
Stalin Absence Explained
Stalin is, however, supreme director of the vast Russian offensive which was already then in full swing and which is still rolling remorselessly and triumphantly forward. He could not leave his post, as he told us, even for a single day.
But I can assure the House that, although he was absent, our duty to aid to the utmost in our power the magnificent, tremendous effort of Russia and to try to draw the enemy and the enemy air force from the Russian front was accepted as the first of our objectives once the problems of the U-boat war had been met in such a way as to enable us to act aggressively.
We made no secret of fact that British and American strategists and leaders are unanimous in adhering to their decision of a year ago, namely, that the defeat of Hitler and the breaking of German power must have priority over the decisive phase of the war against Japan.
Two months ago I indicated that defeat of the enemy in Europe may be achieved before victory is won with Japan and I made it clear that, in that event, all forces of the British Empire, land, sea and air, will be moved to the Far Eastern area with the greatest possible speed and that Britain will continue the war by the side of the United States with the utmost vigor until unconditional surrender is enforced upon Japan.
With the authority of the War Cabinet, I renewed this declaration at our conference at Casablanca. I offered to make it in any form which might be desired, even embodying it in a special treaty if that were thought advantageous. The President, however, said that the word of Britain was quite enough for him.
Guadalcanal Victory Praised
We have already bound ourselves, along with other United Nations, to go on together to the end, however long it may take or however grievous the cost may be.
I think it therefore only necessary to mention the matter to the House and give them an opportunity of registering their general assent to that obvious declaration.
We may now congratulate our American allies upon the decisive victory at Guadalcanal, upon the taking of which the Japanese expended a serious part of their limited strength and largely irreplaceable equipment. We must also express our admiration for hard-won successes of the Australian and American forces who, under the brilliant commander General MacArthur, have taken Buna, in New Guinea, and slaughtered the last of its defenders.
Ingenious use of aircraft to solve intricate tactical problems by transport of reinforcements, supplies and munitions, including field guns, is a prominent feature of MacArthur's generalship and should be carefully studied by all concerned in the technical conduct of the war.
In the meantime, while Hitler is being destroyed in Europe, every endeavor will be made to keep Japan thoroughly occupied and force her to exhaust and expend her material strength against far superior Allied and, above all, American forces.
Distances Held Difficult
This war in the Pacific, although fought by both sides, with comparatively small forces at the end of enormous distances, has already engaged a great part of the American resources employed overseas, as well as those of Australia and New Zealand, and the effort of holding a dumbbell at arm's length is so exhausting to both sides, and so costly, that it would be a great mistake to try to judge the war by the actual numbers who come in contact at particular points.
It is a tremendous effort to fight four, five and six thousand miles across the ocean under these conditions, and it is the kind of effort which is most injurious to Japan, whose resources are incomparably weaker in material than those of which we dispose.
For the time being in our war against Japan, British effort is confined to the Indian theatre.
Our Asiatic war effort is confined to operations, particularly in Burma, to open the Burma Road to give what aid can be given to the Chinese. That is a task which we have before us.
We have been in close correspondence with Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek who, of course, we should have been delighted to see at our conference had it been possible for him to come.
Arnold, Dill in Chungking
General Arnold, head of the United States Air Force, and Field Marshal Dill are at present in Chungking concerning what we have in mind with the Chinese Generalissimo.
We have already received from him an expression of his satisfaction about the strong additional help that will be provided for China at this stage in her long-drawn, undaunted struggle.
The Generalissimo also concurs in the plans for future action in the Far East which we have submitted to him as a result of our deliberations.
Comment about this conference, received only a few minutes ago, declares complete accord between the three powers in their plans for coordination of forces and in their determination in all operations against Japan to insure continued efforts and mutual assistance.
Discussions between MacArthur and Wavell will follow in due course.
So much for the Casablanca decisions and their repercussions, as far as they can be made public.
I must, however, add this: When I look at all Russia isdoing and the vast achievements of the Soviet armies, I should feel myself below the level of events if I were not sure in ray heart and conscience that everything in human power is being done and will be done to bring British and American forces into action against the enemy with the utmost speed and energy and on the largest scale.
This the President and I urgently and specifically enjoined upon our military advisers and experts.
More Weight and Speed Urged
In approving their schemes and allocation of forces, we asked formally for more weight to be put into attacks and more speed into their dates.
Intense efforts are now being made on both sides of the Atlantic for this purpose.
From the conference at Casablanca, with the full assent of the President, I flew to Cairo and then to Turkey.
I descended upon a Turkish airfield at Adana already well equipped with British Hurricane fighters manned by Turkish airmen, and out of the snow-capped Taurus Mountains there curled like an enamel caterpillar the Presidential train bearing the head of the Turkish Republic and the Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary, Marshal Chakmak and party leaders—in fact the high executives of Turkey.
I have already uttered caution against reading anything into the communique which has already been published of this conference.
Do not try to read anything more than the communique conveys.
It is no part of our policy to get Turkey into trouble. On the contrary, disaster to Turkey would be disaster to Britain and all the United Nations.
Hitherto, Turkey has maintained a solid barrier against aggression from any quarter, and by doing so even in the darkest days, she rendered us invaluable service in preventing the spreading of the war through Turkey into Persia and Iraq, and in preventing the menace to the oilfields at Abadan which are of vital consequence to the whole Eastern war.
Wants Turkey Well Armed
It is of important interest to the United Nations and especially Britain that Turkey should become well armed in all the apparatus of a modern army, and her brave infantry shall not lack the essential weapons which play a decisive part on the battlefield today.
These weapons we and the United States are now, for the first time, in a position to supply to the full capacity of Turkish railways and other communications to receive.
We can give them as much as they are able to take, and we can give them these weapons as fast or faster than Turkish troops can be trained to use them.
At our conference, I made no request to Turkey except to get this rearmament business thoroughly well organized, and a joint military mission is now sitting in Ankara—a British and Turkish mission—in order to press forward to the utmost development the general defense strength of Turkey, improvement in communications, and by reception of new weapons to bring its army up to the highest pitch of efficiency.
I am sure it would not be profitable to pry more closely into this part of our affairs. Turkey is our ally. Turkey is our friend. We wish to see her territories, rights and interests effectively preserved, and we wish to see in particular warm and friendly relations established between Turkey and our great Russian ally to the northwards to whom we are bound by a twenty-year Anglo-Russian treaty.
Visit to Cairo
Whereas a little while ago it looked to superficial observers as if Turkey might be encircled by the German advance into the Caucasus and by a German-Italian attack on Egypt on the other side, what a transformation has occurred? It is interesting to see how the story unfolds, chapter by chapter, but it would be very foolish to try and skip too rapidly to the end.
After discharging our business in Turkey I had to come home and naturally stopped at interesting places on the way, where I had people to see and things to do.
I think the story I have to tell follows naturally, stage by stage, along my homeward journey:
I have already mentioned to the House my very pleasant stay in Cyprus, which has played its part so well and is enjoying a period of wartime prosperity. But how different was the situation in Cairo from what I found it in the early days of August last year.
Then the desert army was bewildered and dispirited and feeling themselves better men than the enemy but wondering why they had to retreat persistently with heavy losses for many hundreds of miles while Rommel pursued them with their own captured transport and food and munitions.
Then the enemy was sixty miles from Alexandria and I had to give orders for every preparation to be made to defend the line of the Nile exactly as though we were fighting in Kent.
I had also to make a number of drastic changes in the high command.
New Commanders Praised
These changes have been vindicated in their results. In one week there was the electrifying effect upon the desert armies by Montgomery and by orders he had given, and upon the whole situation, by the appointment of Alexander as commander-in-chief in the Middle East. At the same time great reinforcements dispatched many weeks and even months before around the Cape of Good Hope were streaming up the Red Sea and pouring into the Nile Valley.
The American Sherman tank which the President gave me in Washington that sad morning when we learned of the fall of Tobruk and the surrender of 25,000 men, came into the hands of troops athirst to have good weapons to use against tie enemy.
As a consequence of these events and many others which I could cite, the enemy has been decisively defeated, first in the battle of El Alamein where Rommel's final thrust was repulsed, and secondly in the battle of El Alamein which will go down in history as the battle of Egypt, for by it Egypt was delivered.
On arriving at Cairo I found the enemy, who had boasted he would enter Alexandria, cross and capture the Suez Canal and enter Cairo, and had even struck a medal to commemorate the event—I was handed the specimen—has been rolled back 1,500 miles and perhaps 1,600 miles by now.
What an amazing feat this has been. The battle is one story and the pursuit is another. So rapid an advance by such powerful and competent forces over a distance so enormous is, so far as I am aware, unparalleled in modern history.
The ancients had not advantages in locomotion which we possessed, and were therefore out of it. Everywhere in Egypt there is a feeling that Britain has kept her word and that we have been a faithful ally, and that we have preserved the Nile Valley and its cities and villages and fertile lands from the horrors of invasion.
It was always said that Egypt could never be invaded from across the western desert. That historical fact has been established by modern armies.
In Tripoli I found General Montgomery.
I must confess I didn't realize how magnificent a city and harbor Tripoli had been made. It is the first Italian city to be delivered by British arms from the grip of the Hun. Naturally, there was lively enthusiasm among the Italian people. I can hardly do justice to the effusiveness of demonstrations of which I was the fortunate object. I had the honor, as your servant, to review two of our forward divisions.
The Fifty-first Highland Division is the successor of that brave division that was overwhelmed on the coasts of France in the tragedies of 1940.
It has more than equalized the account which Scotland has opened in this matter.
In the afternoon I saw 10,000 New Zealanders who, with a comparatively small portion of their vast equipment of cannon, tanks and technical vehicles, took over one and a half hours to march past.
That day I saw at least 40,000 troops, and as the representative of His Majesty's government, I had the honor to receive their salutes.
Meanwhile the front had been rolled nearly 100 miles farther west and the beaten enemy was being pursued back to new positions in Tunisia on which it is said they intend to make a stand.
I do not wish to encourage the House or the country to look for speedy new results. They may come or may not come. The enemy carried out very heavy demolitions and blockings in Tripoli harbor. Therefore, supply from the sea is greatly hampered, and I cannot tell what time will be required to clear the port and begin building a new base for supplies.
It is not the slightest use being impatient with these processes.
Meanwhile, Montgomery's army is feeding itself from its base at Cairo, 1,500 miles away, through Tobruk, 1,000 miles away, and Bengazi, 750 miles away, by a prodigious mass of transport all organized in a manner truly wonderful.
Presently we may be able to move forward again. But meanwhile the enemy may have time to consolidate positions and bring up further reinforcements and equipment. Let us see how things go on.
I should like to say this, I have never seen in my life—which from my youth up has been connected with military matters—I have never seen troops march with the style and air of this desert army. Talk about spit and polish! The Highland and New Zealand divisions paraded after their ordeal in the desert as though they had come out of Wellington Barracks, and there was an air on the face of every private, a look of that just and sober pride which comes from victory and triumph after toil.
I saw the same sort of martial smartness and the same punctilio of saluting and discipline in the Russian guard of honor which received me in Moscow six months ago. The fighting men of democracy feel they are coming into their own.
Let me also pay tribute to that vehement and formidable General Montgomery, a Cromwellian figure, austere, severe, accomplished, tireless, his life given to study of war, who has attracted to himself in extraordinary measure the confidence and devotion of his army.
Let me also pay tribute to General Alexander, on whom the overriding responsibility lay.
I read to the House on November 11 the directive which, in those critical August days in Cairo, I gave to General Alexander. I may refresh the memories of the members by reading it again:
"Your prime and main duty will be to take or destroy at the earliest opportunity the German-Italian army commanded by Rommel, together with all its supplies and establishments in Egypt and Libya.
"You will discharge or cause to be discharged such other duties as pertain to your command without prejudice to the task described in Paragraph One; which must be considered paramount in His Majesty's interests."
I have now received, when I visited the Army again, the following official communication from General Alexander, in which General Montgomery took great pleasure, and to which it will be necessary for us to send a reply:
"Sir: Orders you gave me on August 15, 1942, have been fulfilled. His Majesty's enemies, together with their impediments, have been eliminated from Egypt, Cyrenaica, Libya and Tripolitania. I now await your further instructions."
Obviously, we shall have to think of some, and indeed this was one of the more detailed matters which we discussed in the conference at Casablanca.
I did not publish the original instructions to General Alexander until some months ago when the battle of Egypt had been won, and the House will naturally grant me a similar delay before making public the reply to him which is now required.
I should, however, inform the House and the country of various changes in high commands which the marked improvement in our affairs has rendered suitable and necessary. This brings me to the general situation in French Northwest Africa, on which I have a few remarks to make.
The descent upon North Africa by British and American forces will, I believe, be judged in the words which Premier Stalin used to me when I told him about it in August last.
He said it was militarily correct.
It certainly has altered the strategic axis of the war. By this very large-scale manoeuvre, thought by many experts to be most hazardous, we recovered the initiative in the West, and at a comparatively small cost of life and at less loss in shipping than fell into our hands. Nearly a half million men have been landed successfully and safely in Northwest Africa, and this force is now under the control of the United States.
We agreed with the President many months ago that this should be an American enterprise, and I have accepted, with the approval of the War Cabinet, the position of his lieutenant.
Americans attach the greatest importance to unity of command between the Allies and control over all three services is in the hands of one supreme commander. We willingly and freely accepted this position and we shall loyally and faithfully act up to it on all occasions and in every respect.
Some people are busily concerned about the past records of various French functionaries whom the Americans have deemed it expedient to employ.
For my part I must confess I am more interested in the safety of the armies and in the success of the operations which will soon be again advancing to an important climax.
I shall, therefore, not take up the time of the House with tales which can be told of how these Frenchmen acted in the forlorn and hideous situation in which they found themselves when their country collapsed.
What matters to General Eisenhower and to our troops— who in great numbers are serving under him in this vast
area with a population of well over 16,000,000, 90 per cent of whom are Moslems—is first a tranquil countryside.
Secondly, secure and unimpeded communications to the battlefront which is now steadily developing in what I may call the "Tunisian Tip." I have not seen this battlefront, I am sorry to say, because it is 400 miles by road from Algiers, where I spent last Friday and Saturday with General Eisenhower, Admiral Sir Andrew B. Cunningham and our Minister Resident, Harold MacMillan, who is doing admirable work, becoming a real solver of problems, making friends with every one and taking an increasingly heavy burden from the shoulders of the Commander in Chief.
But I can tell you that conditions are absolutely different from those which the desert army has triumphantly surmounted. The desert army is a product of three years of trial and error and continued perfecting of transport, communications, supplies, signals, rapid moving forward of air fields and the like.
The armies now fighting in Tunisia are still in the early stage of building up communications, but the enemy opposite them, although largely an improvised army, have something like the advantage which we had over Rommel in Front of Cairo—I mean the advantage of lying thirty to forty miles in front of their bases while we have to go over very long, slender, tightly stretched and heavily strained approaches in order to get at them.
Very nearly did General Anderson, under General Eisenhowers orders, clear the whole province at the run. It was absolutely right to try this, but it failed.
The Germans effected their entry and made good their bridgehead. We had to fall back to gather strength, to gather our resources for heavy battles. I cannot pretend not to be disappointed that the full result was not achieved at the first bound. Still, our main object is to fight the Germans—and one cannot be blind to the fact that we have made them fight us in a situation extremely costly to them and by no means disadvantageous to us.
Although the enemy's lines of supply on land are short, they are under constant attack by air. Before they reach the battlefield they lose a quarter or one-third of everything they bring across the sea.
Our power of reinforcement is far greater than theirs and the portentous apparition of the desert army driving Rommel before them is a most potent, possibly even decisive, factor.
Air fighting is developing on an ever-increasing scale and this, of course, is greatly to our advantage, because it would pay us to lose two machines to one in order to wear down the German Air Force and draw it away from the Russian front.
Loss Figures Reversed
However, instead of losing two planes to one, the actual results are nearly the other way round. Therefore it seems to me the House need not be unduly depressed because the fighting in North Africa is going to assume a very much larger scale and last a longer time than was originally anticipated and hoped.
It is indeed remarkable that the Germans should have shown themselves ready to run the risk and pay the price required of them by their struggle to hold the Tunisian tip.
While I have always hesitated to say anything which might afterwards look like overconfidence, I cannot resist the remark that one seems to discern in this policy the touch of a master hand, the same master hand that planned the attack on Stalingrad and thus brought upon German armiesthe greatest disaster that they have ever suffered in all their military history.
However, I am making no predictions and no promise. Very serious battles will have to be fought. Including Rommel's army, there must be nearly a quarter million of the enemy in the Tunisian tip, and we must not in any way underrate the hazards we have to dare or the burdens we have to carry.
It is always folly to forecast the result of great trials of strength in war before they take place. I will say no more than this: all disadvantages are not on one side, and certainly not all on our side. I think it conforms to the strictest standards of anti-complacency opinions in this country.
French Northwest Africa is, as I have said, a United States operation, under American command. We have agreed that the boundary between our respective spheres shall be the existing frontier between Tripolitania and Tunisia. But the desert army is now crossing the frontier, driving forward on its quest, which is Rommel. Its movement must, therefore, be combined with those of the First Army and with various powerful forces coming from the west.
For some weeks past the commanders have been in very close touch with each other. These contacts must now be formalized. As the desert army passes into the American sphere it will naturally come under the orders of General Eisenhower.
I have great confidence in General Eisenhower. I regard him as one of the finest men I have ever met. It was arranged at Casablanca that when this transfer of the desert army takes place General Alexander will become deputy commander in chief under General Eisenhower.
At the same time, Air Vice Marshal Tedder becomes air commander in chief of the Mediterranean and responsible to General Eisenhower for all air operations in this theatre. He will control also all air forces throughout the whole Middle East.
Air Forces Under One Command
It is absolutely necessary because the air forces from Egypt, Cyrenaica and Libya, and also our powerful air forces operating from Malta, are actually attacking the same targets, both by bomber and fighter aircraft, as the United States and British Air Forces now working from Algeria and Tunisia.
You must have one control over all this and that control must be exercised under a supreme commander "by one man." And who is better, may I ask, than trusted and experienced Marshal Tedder, for whom General Eisenhower so earnestly asked? Under him Air Marshal Coningham, hitherto working with the Eighth Army and whose services were so much admired, will concert air operations in support of the First and Eighth British Armies and other troops on the Tunisian battlefront.
At the same time Admiral of the Fleet Cunningham, who already commands all British and American naval forces in this theatre, will extend his command eastward to comprise effectively all cognate operations inside the Mediterranean. And the present commander in chief in the Mediterranean, with headquarters in Egypt, will become commander in chief in the Levant, dealing also with the Red Sea and all approaches from that quarter.
There is no need for me to announce exactly where the line of division between these commands is drawn, but the House may be assured that all that has been arranged with precision. The vacancy in command in the Middle East created by General Alexander's appointment as deputy commander in chief under General Eisenhower will be filled by General Sir Henry Maitland Wilson.
Persia and Iraq Separate
It is proposed to keep Persia and Iraq a separate command for the present and a new commander will shortly be appointed.
Meanwhile General Eisenhower has already obtained the consent of General Giraud, who commands the French army fighting on the Tunisian front—an army which is being raised by American and British equipment to a very powerful force, an army which will play its part later on in liberating the French motherland—to this army, together with strong United States forces which have been moved forward into Tunisia, being placed under the command of General Anderson.
Thus we have a hierarchy established by international arrangement completely in accord with the modern idea of unity of command between various Allies and of the closest concert of the three services.
I make an appeal to the House, the press and the country. They will, I trust, be very careful in criticizing this arrangement, and if so, I trust they will not do it on personal lines or run one general against another to the detriment of the smooth, harmonious relations which now prevail among us, a band of brothers who have got their teeth in the job.
In General Eisenhower, as in General Alexander, you have two men remarkable for their selflessness of character
and their disdain of purely personal advancement. Let them alone, give them a chance and it is quite possible that one of these fine days the bells will have to be rung again.
If not we will address ourselves to the problem in all loyalty and comradeship.
I have tried to tell the House everything that I am sure that the enemy knows and to tell them nothing that the enemy ought to know.
At any rate I appeal to all patriotic men on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean to stamp their feet on mischief makers and sowers of discord wherever they may be found and let the great machines whirl into battle under the best possible conditions for our success.
That is all I have to say at the present time.
I am most grateful for the extreme kindness with which I am treated by the House. I accept in the fullest degree the fullest responsibility, as Minister of Defense and agent for the War Cabinet, for the plans we have devised. His Majesty's Government ask no favors for themselves. We ask only to be judged by results. We await the unfolding of events with sober confidence and we are sure that Parliament and the British nation will display in these hopeful days—which may nevertheless be clouded o'er—the same qualities of steadfastness which they did in the awful period when the life of Britain and her empire hung by a thread.