August 29, 2016

1943. How Soon Can We Expect the End of the Second World War?

The Global Tide of War
"The Combat." Editorial cartoon by Leslie Illingworth in Punch magazine, 1940
This column by William V. Pratt appeared in Newsweek, August 2, 1943, p. 25:
Concerning the Length of the War

by Admiral William V. Pratt, U.S.N. Retired

The move into Sicily is the first step in the invasion of Europe, and as such it is only part of a larger and grander strategic plan. Such strategy must be determined far in advance and necessarily unfolds rather slowly. Sicily is interesting as an indication of the form the entire invasion plan is taking.

The invasion course from North Africa to Sicily runs, generally speaking, in a northeast direction. Once Sicily is occupied, we will have built up a great base for the next forward effort. Once Sicily is occupied, we will have built up a great base for the next forward effort. This northeast invasion course took the line of least resistance and struck Sicily at its southeast corner.

From Sicily on, the line of least resistance still runs northeast to the shores of the Adriatic. The Apennines, backbone of Italy, trend, except in isolated instances, toward lower altitudes as they stretch south. The sea distances from Sicily to the lower half of Italy are less than the distance from North Africa to Sicily, and a swing of 180 miles from air bases in Sicily cover the land and sea from Naples on the west coast to Brindisi on the Adriatic.

Thus when strategy sets its course for Sicily, it struck in the center, by-passing Sardinia and Crete, knowing that if Italy fell, Sardinia would fall and the Axis position in Crete be worsened.

Turning now to the Pacific, the Navy Department struck a very sane note when it stated that the Navy was planning for a Pacific war lasting until 1949. It is to be hoped that this global war may end sooner, but wishful thinking gets nowhere. The war in Europe must be finished first, and it would take an optimist to see its conclusion before 1944. Even when the war is cleaned up, it will take time before the Allies can marshal their full strength in the Pacific. And even then, it should be a long hard pull before the Japs accept terms of unconditional surrender. Their record is against it. Their military men fight until the last man is exterminated, and their seamen refuse to be saved when their ships are sunk under them. They send their airplanes and naval ships out to be destroyed but still come on, and the men in the jungles and foxholes fight on without support or reinforcement.

Recently we have had many successes. Paramushiru, a key Jap air and naval base, has been bombed. It is almost a question now whether it might not be better to concentrate on Paramushiru and let Kiska die of attrition. For Kiska would be hurt worse if its supply line from Paramushiru were cut, than probably all the bombing and shellfire has done yet. But any expeditionary force operating in the waters of the Aleutians or Kuriles has to content with weather as a tough enemy.

We are creeping in on Munda and Salamaua, but even when these positions fall we are still working away on the fringes of the Pacific war. We haven't struck the heart of it yet. Even if Rabaul, a tough nut to crack, falls, it only gives our fleet more elbow room. Even if we drive the Jap fleet out of Truk, I don't expect a surrender or its obliteration.

Their fleet only moves north and west, nearer to the center or the ultimate struggle. There are hundreds of islands an spots now held by Jap termites, some worth taking, others better by-passed, but we won't strike a really vital blow and be on our way to ultimate victory until the Allies in force can get a foothold in China, and this means men, aircraft, naval ships, a great military, naval, and air base to work from with thousands of miles of sea to cover from source to base, and thousands of ships to bring the reinforcements where they can be used. Even with Europe out of the war, and with all the forces we can muster on Pacific waters, unconditional surrender still looks some distance away, if the Japs fight on, as they have in the past. Perhaps Tojo was right when he predicted a great future for Japan or utter obliteration for a thousand years.