Victory Begins at Home
OUR TRIP TO THE WAR FRONT
By F. C. CRAWFORD, President, Thompson Products, Inc, and Chairman, Board of Directors, NAM
Delivered before the War and Reconversion Congress of American Industry, National Association of Manufacturers, New York, December 8, 1944
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. XI, pp. 222-224.
THIS is a vast war. No one can understand it without seeing it. In our short trip, distinct impressions were burned into our minds. We face a powerful and fiendish enemy. Many lives will be lost before victory. General Somervell in his speech of Wednesday stated that we are committed to the G.I. to fight with overwhelming superiority of materiel—materiel rather than lives. Without seeing the fighting, the mud and the destruction, one can have no conception of the terrific rate of consumption of the materials of war. We returned deeply stirred and deadly serious in our determination to make Americans understand this.
Leaving London by air, we landed in Scotland, there having our first experience with the terrible weather that has dogged our Armies all over Europe during these winter months. After stopping a short time in London, we flew on to Cherbourg, where we started our inquiry into the problems of the supplies, transportation and communications which keep a great army fighting.
At Cherbourg we saw the terrible wreckage of harbor installations, docks and buildings demolished by the Germans. In a sea of mud,—short of railroad trackage,—without warehouses or adequate storage place,—the extraordinary resourcefulness of our engineers became apparent. American ingenuity in a few weeks raised the tonnage handled in this wrecked harbor to four times that of its peacetime record.
47 Liberty Ships were crowded against the wrecked docks or anchored in the harbor nearby. Great tankers were pumping oil into the pipelines built since D-Day, and now carrying the greatest oil tonnage of any pipelines in the world.
Some of us who have chafed at the requirements for careful waterproofing of war materiel saw the need for this caution:—food, ammunition, medical supplies piled up in the mud, covered with canvas in a driving rain.
Leaving Cherbourg, we flew over the landing beaches, unusable now because of winter storms. There was the wreckage of the great June storm which had destroyed the harbors a week after they were built. There was the artificial breakwater of ships sunk in a long line to protect the beaches. We could picture the vast invasion fleet—7,500 various types of ships standing off these beaches, supplying this great expedition.
Extraordinary planning of each detail had been done. An example of this planning was seen in a storage pile of 300,000 telephone poles dragged over the beaches because our staff had expected the Germans would destroy the telephone lines. However, they simply cut the wires between the poles, leaving them standing like Christmas trees across France.
From Verdun, we went forward to the headquarters of General Patton, in command of the Third Army. Lunching with this colorful fighting man—so popular with the men in the Army that every wounded soldier asks to be returned to Patton's command—we reviewed the story of the war, of the great victory at Cherbourg, of the breakthrough in the famous "end-run" across France. We learned of that brief period of good weather which enabled our air force, through magnificent bombing, to destroy all bridges and cut off the Germans from their reserves; and then with great skill to aid in the breakthrough. We learned of the masterful advance of our mechanized equipment across France, described by General Eisenhower as "one of the great military maneuvres of our time." We learned how the air corps was called to protect the ever lengthening flank from the Germans who attacked from the south; how the Germans in their haste to advance, left the fields and concentrated on the concrete roads, where the air force decimated them.
We learned of the terrible problem of supply as the advance went forward 200-300-400-600-700 miles. Trucks designed for advance front army work were pressed into service for the long 600-mile run to the beaches for precious fuel. Fighter planes flew to the front to supply gas to tie tanks.
Finally, it became humanly impossible to keep this great army of mechanized equipment supplied. The very success of this great "end-run" brought its end. General Patton ordered the gas from the trucks put into his tanks, and told his men to "go until the tanks stop—and then get out and walk," And they did—they walked right through Metz.
The story is told that a supply truck arrived loaded with food, and that General Patton wired back: "What's the matter with that supply man? Doesn't he know we can get on without eating, but that we can't advance without gas."
If, by some strange miracle, gas could have been supplied to that Army, there is no doubt that it would have gone straight through to Berlin. The enemy was knocked off his feet onto the ropes, and only the impossibility of supplying fuel over such vast distances gave the enemy the count of nine and time to re-form.
Here, another example of the resourcefulness of the American soldier. He lived on captured supplies. Two million tons of frozen meat were found, which kept our boys going—complete warehouses of hospital supplies—and at the end of the advance, two-thirds of all of Pattons artillery was made up of German 88s captured, repaired and turned on the enemy.
General Patton told us of the terrible effect of the winter upon war plans and supply problems. France is experiencing the worst floods in 50 years. Record high water has flooded vast areas and wrecked bridges. General Patton's men started building an important bridge. Before it was finished, the water rose 54 inches and flooded a mile of one approach to the bridge, so that it was necessary to bring up "ducks" to transport supplies from the hills to the bridge. Four bridges were washed out as soon as built. Every foxhole was filled with water. Even the Seine had flooded its banks in Paris. Barges could not go under the bridges, and just stood, blocking river traffic.
Now this is the point! This terrible winter and the rapid advance of this army brought about an abnormal use of war materiel and equipment. The entire truck fleet of our Army already has passed its life expectancy but it has performed so magnificently that General Patton, for example, pays tribute to the 2y2 ton truck as the greatest invention for war since the internal combustion engine. Enormous numbers of tires were worn out, 5,000 replacements a day being necessary. And in the deep, soft mud, spinning tires were ripped open by shell fragments.
The very success of this military maneuver brought a great waste of war materials. An example of how the conditions of war determine the demand for materiel is shown in thestory of tanks. Tanks are designed for cross-country work, but after hundreds of miles the tank track wears out and there was a terrible shortage of tank track. As soon as this great "end-run" was over, tank track became a surplus. The problem then became one of keeping the tanks from bogging down in the mud. An ingenious American boy found that he could weld steel web feet, called "duckbills," onto the tank tracks. These widened the area of bearing and kept the tanks from sticking in the mud. So, while we were at the front, the great demand was for "duckbills", and we saw long lines of American boys out in the rain, welding these improvised steel pieces to the track so that they could get on with the attack, in spite of the weather.
In his great advance, clothes were destroyed, thousands of mess kits lost, a million pup-tent halves lost. Tent halves were used for all kinds of purposes—for tent floors to keep out the wet, under trucks to get them out of the mud—all to keep this great army racing on.
Another problem presented itself in the supply of socks. General Patton is now issuing dry socks every day with rations, taking back the wet ones so that his soldiers can, once in a while, get their feet dry. I saw a boy who had not had his shoes off for 18 days. He said it was useless to take them off and put them on again wet.
Under such conditions, all quartermaster plans went by the board. Overcoats normally lasting for 19 months are gone in 9; overshoes disappear in half-time. Jackets normally lasting a year are worn out in 8 months.
Many of us have wondered what became of the vast quantities of materials that we have supplied our Army. After this, I no longer wonder where Army clothing goes. My own suit nearly fell apart on a short, three-week trip, under the conditions of Army travel.
From General Patton we went on to General Bradley, Commander of the 12th Army group. This direct, quiet, frank-speaking officer took us into his map room and reviewed the whole European war situation. Unfortunately for us, the great "end run" ended at the strongest natural line of defense for Germany. In a remarkably short time, enemy armies have re-formed. Thousands of new Volk-Grenadiers were hastily recruited. There appeared signs of new and skillful generalship. An entirely new situation presented itself.
It is so startling that no one can consider that one war has ended and a new one has begun. Today we find our* selves standing before a thousand miles of cohesive line, the strongest defense position in Europe. Mobile warfare is over for the moment. We are in a new kind of warfare where we must slug it out with a revitalized enemy. We are learning the truth of the statement that Germany is easy to defend and hard to attack.
Let me list the conditions of this new war with which we tare faced:
1. The terrain: We stand before a line of mountains, forests, and rivers, all strongly knit together in the great Siegfried Line. Through this line of defense there are but a few narrow corridors through which an army can move. In these few corridors, defenses of great depth—perhaps the strongest in the world—have been prepared. The terrain is such that even inferior and untrained troops—troops that would be wholly ineffective in the open—can be completely effective in holding the line. A high officer pointing to these narrow corridors said, "We can go through there. But we will leave 100,000 boys dead. Our only alternative is to pile up unprecedented numbers of shells and bombs and war materials, and blow those corridors all to pieces."
You ask me how long would the war last. The American armies can stand before these lines one month—2 months—6 months—a year—until we blast through these corridorseither with American blood or overwhelm them with shells.
2. Enemy strength: In spite of great losses in the past, enemy strength is rising at a surprising rate. Today perhaps 6 million troops guard Germany. To be sure, many of them are the new Volks-Grenadiers of little training. But I repeat, in this line of great defensive strength these are as effective as trained troops.
3. Enemy morale: We have been waiting month after month for the enemy to crack. But our military staff in Europe find German morale better than a year ago. General Eisenhower points out that a nation of 85 million people, tightly controlled, each obeying orders and doing the job assigned to him, presents a greater strength than at any time in the last year or two. He said that he thought a year and a half ago, had the break-through taken place, the German people might have broken. Today there are no signs of a break.
4. Enemy material: For months we have supposed that our enemy is short of food. After we had crossed France and Belgium, flying over large farms on which grazed fat cattle, watching farmers behind fat horses plowing and driving their wagons (many equipped with rubber tires)—certainly in the past four years, had our enemy felt a food shortage, he would long ago have stripped Europe of these food supplies. In America we had our scrap drives. We said Germany was desperate for copper, and yet we found the hotels and public buildings still equipped with their brass door-knobs and brass decorations. And the great old-fashioned copper bath tubs were still in place in the resorts and spas near the German border. Surely, an enemy desperate for copper would have stripped these supplies long ago.
5. Enemy resourcefulness: There is no sign that Germany's ingenuity and resourcefulness are weakening. The "V-1 buzz bomb" is coming over in greater numbers and causing havoc in supply systems. They are coming in increased numbers and with ever greater accuracy. And the V-2 rocket—that extraordinary machine which throws its explosive into the stratosphere—is appearing in great numbers. German development of jet propulsion shows in many forms, designed with great ingenuity, giving their aircraft unheard-of speed. Our generals do not discount enemy resourcefulness. They expect new and more frightful inventions. They beg us to give them supplies as fast as possible so that we can get this war over with before these new weapons appear.6. Lastly and perhaps most important of all, since this new defensive war started a few months ago, German command by Hitler intuition has ended* Much to the regret of our staff, the Hitler mistakes are no longer being made. Generalship of great skill appears in handling the German forces. This new war presents the most bloody and serious picture that American armies have faced. Coining from a complacent and optimistic home front, our little group sat shocked and whispering as we heard this story of the new war. We left an America where millions were tiring of war, leaving their war work and turning to the pursuits of peace. Didn't Germany count on this? Didn't Germany tell us that we wouldn't last it out? The picture sank in of this revitalized enemy—the new skillful leadership—the powerful entrenchments of this natural defensive terrain. I repeat, when you ask me how long the war will last—one month—3 months—6 months—a year—to end it quickly we must pour out either hundreds of thousands of lives or vast quantities of war materiel. General Somervell summarized it: materiel or lives. And the materiel will be determined not by any Army staff, but by conditions of the war as they develop.
You ask why so many big shells. Had our Armies run into the sunniest weather that Europe had ever known, the demand would have been for more and more bombs. Butwhen planes can't fly, heavy artillery must take over. And today big shells are carrying the load.
We drove on to Aachen. What a sight! Utter destruction. The cathedral still standing and shattered, but possibly restorable, but not another building fit to rebuild. The story of Aachen is again the story of big sheik. Our Army surrounded the city, it was doomed. A reasonable enemy would have yielded. A young Lieutenant came forward with a white flag and gave the city a day to surrender. Word came back from headquarters of the desperate decision to hold the city at any cost in order to delay us.
Here again our Army was faced with lives or shells. Men could take that city. Instead we poured 300,000 105-millimeter shells in addition to the other size ammunition into that city of 100,000 people. When our fire lifted, our troops went forward and captured a dazed enemy with very little loss of life. But, the decision of the enemy had determined the kind and amount of ammunition we need. That decision consumed our vast reserves of heavy caliber shells. At Aachen too we learned of the new fiendish device—the foot mine, made of plastic or wood, planted by the millions by the Germans—mines that cannot be detected. Thirty-one American soldiers went into the woods to probe the enemy defences. Sixteen came back with legs gone. Vast shell fire will spring those mines and save our boys. Again, enemy ingenuity brings the demand for shells in unheard of quantities.
We visited a gun position behind our lines. In a small barn, under camouflage, was a great 240 millimeter Howitzer. All around, water, rain, and mud.
We got out of our cars and walked through the mud toward the position. A gun crew of 30 American boys came out to meet us. Originally recruited in Brooklyn, they were a sight to behold. Their sergeant was a tall, thin, Italian-American boy, and they were truly the melting pot of many races, tall, fat, and lean. Some in work clothes, some in jackets, some without hats. They gathered around, an eager, bright-eyed wisecracking lot. "So you come all the way from America to see us?" "Great stuff." "How are folks at home?" "Sure, we are doing a job—we've been here five weeks. Look at that gun. Ain't she a dandy? Look at it shine."
The crew gathered around us—told us they were rationed to three shells a day—some days they could not fire at all.
I asked a group what they were thinking about, what is on their minds, what did they want more than anything in the world, and they all answered, "To fire that gun."
I said, "Sure, I know that, boys; that is your job, but what do you want second most?"
"To know what we are shooting at."
And I asked again "Fine, boys, but after that, what do you want most in the world?"
"We want to know if we hit the target."
They were breezy American boys, with the enemy ahead, raring to go, to get the job over with and come home. Yes, they were puzzled about war plant stoppages and much talk about reconversion, and they wondered what we were doing at home.
Don't worry about the G.I. and what he is thinking. He is in this job to finish it. Let's keep the home front on its job, so that our G.I.'s need not worry about us.
At his- headquarters, General Eisenhower talked frankly and openly. We were impressed by his seriousness, his determination to stick to his job and crush the enemy. He reviewed our whole trip with us. First, this terrible new slugging war which has just begun. The revitalized enemy, the new skillful generalship, the war in this naturally defensive terrain. He reaffirmed the pledge to the G.I.'s that we will win this war with materiel instead of with American lives—that materiel, not life, is expendable!
He told of the great need for supplies and how this need is determined, first, by enemy decision, often desperate and foolish, to gain time as in Aachen; second, by the terrain which presents defenses that must be blasted by shell fire third, by the weather which has been so rugged; fourth, by the fortunes of war as they unfold.
He told of his great pride in the American soldier. How when he goes to the front he singles out a G.I.; walks with him and talks with him, and how invariably the conversation turns to what, as the General expressed it, "the spiritual—or call it what you will."
What are people thinking at home? Are they back of the soldier? Are they going to stick with him to the end? Do they know he is there and fighting this war through? Those are the questions deep in G.I. Joe's mind. He is hungry for the assurance that we will not let him down at home. No said General Eisenhower, don't worry about the morale of our boys—just back them up.
We left General Eisenhower deeply stirred and deeply impressed by his grasp of the situation, by the great struggle that faces him. We thanked God for such men of character and human understanding as Eisenhower, Bradley, Patton, Hodges and all the other commanders who lead in our fight for freedom.
We thought of the home front still celebrating the victory of Cherbourg, still unaware that a new and more terrible battle for Germany has begun. We solemnly pledged ourselves to return to bring you this message, to travel over this land, to tell all Americans who love their country to re-enlist in our war of freedom.